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Charlie Harrell, a 7th grade geography teacher at Baumholder High School, matches locks to lockers Wednesday before students return to kick off a new school year.
Charlie Harrell, a 7th grade geography teacher at Baumholder High School, matches locks to lockers Wednesday before students return to kick off a new school year. (Ben Bloker / S&S)
Charlie Harrell, a 7th grade geography teacher at Baumholder High School, matches locks to lockers Wednesday before students return to kick off a new school year.
Charlie Harrell, a 7th grade geography teacher at Baumholder High School, matches locks to lockers Wednesday before students return to kick off a new school year. (Ben Bloker / S&S)
Artwork in a hallway welcomes students to Kaiserslautern High School March 12, 2007.
Artwork in a hallway welcomes students to Kaiserslautern High School March 12, 2007. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

European edition, Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fewer students will be reporting to classes when most Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe open their doors Monday.

That’s partially because there are fewer doors to open. Nine schools closed at the end of last year, due mainly to ongoing military transformation that has seen a handful of military communities in Germany turned back to the host nation.

Enrollment will hover at an estimated 34,000 students this year. That’s about a 17-percent decline — the largest in years — from the 41,000 students the system supported a year ago, according to Jim Rodman, a data extraction specialist for DODDS-Europe.

“It’s a pretty significant drop,” Rodman said.

Some schools should actually have larger enrollments this year, but Rodman said he really couldn’t discuss numbers until all students register, and that isn’t expected to happen until mid-September.

Transformation creates “a real topsy-turvy situation,” for DODDS, he said. Hundreds of positions for teachers were slashed over the summer. Some teachers could be told they’ll need to change schools in the next few weeks if enrollment estimates vary widely from the actual number of students who arrive in classrooms.

This year also marks the first time graduating seniors must have 26 credits to receive their diplomas. That’s an increase from 24 credits a year ago.

“It means a more rigorous schedule,” said Tricia Cassiday, coordinator for student services. She said with a seven-period day, students would receive 28 credits during their high school years if they have full schedules and pass all their classes. Students in middle schools who take classes such as mathematics or a foreign language also can receive a few credits before they enter high school.

In addition to at least 26 credits, DODDS seniors must maintain a grade point average of at least 2.0 to graduate.

Dozens of seniors will have the distinction of being part of their schools’ final graduating class. All DODDS schools in Würzburg and Hanau are set to close in June, reducing the total number of schools from 90 to 85.

“It’s going to be a very special year,” said Cristina Echevarria, principal of Hanau’s middle school/high school. She expects enrollment to hover at around 150 from grades 6 through 12, shrinking some as the year goes by.

“It’s sad for any school that closes,” she said. “Because there are some beautiful memories here. But we’re a military family and we’re used to moving on.”

There’s still some hope that military leaders — who are taking another look at troop levels in Europe — will decide to keep more Army personnel in Germany, thus keeping communities such as Würzburg alive.

“If they were to keep the Würzburg community, that would make a lot of people happy,” said Walt Seely, the high school principal since 2001. “Myself included.”

Seely expects enrollment to drop to fewer than 200 students this year. Three years ago, enrollment topped 600 and Würzburg was one of the largest high schools in Europe.

“We’re trying to keep as many programs as we can,” Seely said, despite seeing a significant staff reduction over the last two years.

More than half the Würzburg student population this year will come from the community of Schweinfurt, which is expected to endure for at least a few more years. Next year, those students would be bused to Bamberg, another community scheduled to remain open for a while.

Several other schools already have consolidated or will do so at the end of the school year.

The students won’t be the only ones experiencing growing (and shrinking) pains this year: in addition to thousands of students attending new schools for the first time, 20 principals have new jobs around Europe.

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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