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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Robert E. Byrd Elementary School in the Negishi Housing Area and Navy Annex is quaint, said Margherita Palmisano-Bael, whose daughter attends fifth grade there.

“The library is in the center of the school. Everybody knows everybody and there’s a great sense of community,” she said Friday.

The K-5 school, in bustling Yokohama, may feel even more “small town” in 2006 when declining student enrollment has prompted putting pupils of different ages in all its classrooms.

Principal Sara Porter wrote parents this week that “We will have less teachers and support staff” and will be going to “all multi-age/combination classes” in the 2006-2007 school year. School officials thought they’d have 98 students this year; there are 76. Next year’s staffing is based on 72 students, after the Sept. 30 attendance count.

Negishi is not alone. About 400 fewer students are attending 20 Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) throughout mainland Japan this year, according to DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charles “Chip” Steitz. He said he did not immediately have information on how many teachers this would affect. DODDS teachers aren’t laid off but will be asked to transfer to another station or within the school complex, if there’s room.

“We expect to see a slight reduction in personnel based upon lower enrollment,” Steitz said. “But we make certain that the quality of our students’ education remains our top priority.”

All but one Yokosuka Naval Base school lost students from last school year. Enrollment at Ikego Primary School dropped 90 to 315; at Byrd Elementary School, more than 30 to 76. Yokosuka Middle School’s enrollment was about 580, off by almost 30. Nile C. Kinnick High School dropped about 20 students to 540.

Only The Sullivans Elementary School added students — about 40 — bringing its headcount to 1,210.

The numbers and consequent projections are based on this year’s Sept. 30 head count.

Steitz said he doesn’t believe the drop indicates a larger trend.

“Of the four Pacific school districts, Japan and Guam lost students while Okinawa and South Korea recorded gains,” he said. “There is no one school that took a large drop. It’s just a combination across the board.”

Ikego Elementary School Principal Walter Wilhoit cautioned that enrollment figures are ever-changing. Ikego’s staff numbers also will decrease, he said, but not its programs.

“We use the Sept. 30 figure to develop the budget for the next school year but it’s a very fluid number,” Wilhoit said. “People are moving in and PCSing all of the time. We work in proportion to the enrollment.”

Some schools might find making due with fewer teachers and less funding difficult, Palmisano-Bael said, but parents can make up the difference. And while multi-age classrooms are “challenging,” they have positive sides too, said the mother — who was educated in an eight-room schoolhouse.

“There always seems to be a handful of parents to step up and put in extra hours to help the kids,” she said. “The resources may go down but that doesn’t make it an impossible task to give kids a decent education.”


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