TAMPA — The number of students enrolled in Hillsborough County Public Schools has surged past 200,000 for the first time.
Most of that growth can be seen in schools in south Hillsborough County, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said.
On Tuesday, the 20th day of the academic year, 201,363 students were enrolled in the district's 253 schools.
That is 2,313 more than this time last year.
The district expected and has been preparing for the extra students for months. It hired 1,200 new teachers this year, Elia said.
“We track it from the very first day kids walk in,” she said.
Lennard High School in Ruskin has at least 150 more students than this time last year, with 1,919 enrolled.
The school opened in 2006 with about 750 students in grades 9 through 11. The following year, 12th grade was added, and enrollment has gone up each year ever since.
Principal Craig Horstman said the area is becoming more developed.
“When we first moved into the building 7 1/2 years ago, there were orange groves down the street,” Horstman said. “Those have been leveled, and we see rooftops going up.”
Horstman said his school gained new teachers, and some classes had to be shifted. The school still has a way to go before it reaches capacity of 2,100 students.
The district's five-year plan calls for three new schools in south Hillsborough County in the next several years.
An elementary school, scheduled to be named at Tuesday's school board meeting, will open in fall 2014 next door to Lennard High.
“We know our schools down there are a little crowded this year, but we'll get relief next year,” Elia said.
There are plans to open another elementary in the area in 2015 and another middle school in 2016.
Not all of the enrollment growth is in south Hillsborough.
Alonso High School, 8302 Montague St. in the western part of the county, has the largest student body in the school district. The school had 2,518 students Tuesday, 70 or 80 more than projected.
Much of the growth there is likely from new homes in the area and from lower housing prices that draw families in financial trouble, Alonso Principal Louis Diaz said.
“We've had an unusually heavy enrollment,” Diaz said. “More than anything else, it's probably people moving into the area due to financial hardships. This community usually sustains a lot of coming and going. You have people move in and move out.”
Despite the increase, all Alonso classes are meeting the state limit of 25 students per class in high school, Diaz said.
“We are dealing with it and we're not stressed in any way, shape or form at this point,” he said. “Even though we're overcrowded, I don't think anybody's felt the pinch.
“We're still slightly above capacity. We really can't take too many new kids.
The only negative impact has been traffic near the school, Diaz said.
“It's a two-lane road and it gets backed up a little,” he said. “There's only one way in and one way out.”