RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Rutherford County School District is racing to keep up with soaring enrollment numbers.

“At some point, you get to a breaking point, and I worry that we’re getting close to that breaking point,” said Jimmy Sullivan, Director of Rutherford County Schools. “This is not sustainable.”

The county’s enrollment numbers are above 50,000 students, and at this rate of growth, Sullivan said they would need to build a school a year to keep up.

In fact, the district is a top 100 county for enrollment across the nation. Sullivan noted they have the largest middle school in the state, Blackman Middle School, with about 1,700 students.

  • County Enrollment
    • 2018-2019:   45,658
    • 2019-2020:   46,734
    • 2020-2021:   46,863
    • 2022-2023:   50,500
    • 2021-2022:   48,844

A proposed $750 million dollar, five-year plan could bring six new school buildings and five expansions to the district.

  • Open
    • Westside Elementary School by August 2024: $57.4 million
    • Westside Middle School by August 2024: $71 million
    • Northside Elementary School by August 2026: $57.4 million
    • Northside High School by August 2027: $137 million
    • Middle school by Plainview Elementary or across the street from Walter Hill Elementary by August 2027: $71 million
    • High school across the street from Walter Hill Elementary or in the Christiana area: $137 million
  • Expansions
    • Riverdale High by December 2025: $47.3 million
    • Smyrna High by December 2025: $41.6 million
    • Oakland High by December 2025: $47.1 million
    • Blackman High by August 2026: $34.3 million
    • La Vergne High by August 2026: $43.6 million

The county commission is leading funding efforts.

“They’ve done absolutely the best they can with what they have,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said he’s concerned how the growth is impacting educational environments. Right now, he said 160 portable classrooms are needed to hold all of their students, and they just purchased ten more.

“Once you get to a certain size, it definitely has a detriment to the education you’re providing to students,” said Sullivan. “That’s something that we, every day, talk about: how can we keep the past history and trajectory of Rutherford County schools being successful, while also trying to manage how big we truly are, and that we are getting bigger each and every day?”

Another challenge: staffing.

Sullivan said the district is looking regionally and nationally to hire teachers and are completing a salary study to attract and retain quality educators.

“My biggest concern is we can have great building, we can have great students, great parental involvement, but if we don’t have the educators and the support staff in the building, then it doesn’t matter how great our education system is because our teachers and our support staff are our background of what we’re doing,” said Sullivan.

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He said they are also in the middle of a rezoning study, so specifics of the five-year plan could change.

Most recently, the district voted to purchase the Batey Family Farm land, where the celebrity pig who appeared on the cover of “Charlotte’s Web” (2006) is buried. That purchase now moves to the county commission for approval.

“Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that kids get a great education,” said Sullivan. “Regardless of what school we happen to have or how big that school is, our goal and past performance shows that they’re still going to be successful.”