Walter Johnson deals with overcrowding issues amidst pandemic

Jona Jancewicz

More stories from Jona Jancewicz


Courtesy by Jillian Ward

Walter Johnson students wade through the crowded stairwells trying to get to class. Many find the slow, jammed hallways a difficult adjustment, especially after distancing for so long.

The Montgomery County school system has seen an exponential growth of students over the past decade. From elementary to high school, schools across Montgomery County are more crowded than ever.

A study by the Washington Post showed how over the past decade more than 20,000 new students have enrolled into the Montgomery County school district. The total number of students in the county has now reached 165,000, making Montgomery County the 14th most populated school district in the country.

In a 2021 boundary analysis report of the county schools, the Montgomery County School Board announced that for the 2021-2022 schooling year it would not change any school boundaries to try to combat the overcrowding problem. Though, mentioned in the report that if 10% of the students were re-distrced, Montgomery County schools would have better diversity in schools and less overcrowding problems in some of the schools. The action of the Montgomery County School Board did not sit well with parents, students and administrators across the county.

Walter Johnson Principal Jennifer Baker commented on how Walter Johnson will try to alleviate overcrowding issues in the short term.

“A couple of things, we have 10 portables, because we are about 650 students over the capacity of the building. The capacity of the building is 2321 students and we are about 2965 kids. so there’s no way to not be overcrowded in the halls, but we will get more portables,” Baker said.

Baker continued explaining how in the long term, the overcrowding problem for Walter Johnson will be solved.
“They are not going to do an addition (WJ), Woodward is going to be the alleviation to the overcrowding and in the meantime, we will have a portable city. There won’t be any empty seats but they will try to get us down to 2300 students at around capacity,” Baker said.

To be able to make the changes needed, the county needs to have a faster and more efficient system. Walter Johnson High School science teacher Caroline Su said that the overcrowding affects the day to day operation for students and teachers.

“I think it affects my instructional time because I know there are students who have class in the first floor, basement, and some are even in the trailers. I know there is only six minutes of transition time and I have students who walk in a few minutes after the bell rings and they have good reasons because they are trying to get from the other side of the campus and they are trying their best. So you know, it’s only a few minutes but it’s lost time for students,” Su said.

Montgomery County is made up of over 500 miles of locations that vary in wealth, affluence and socioeconomic class. Towns such as Bethesda and Chevy Chase are towns of great wealth and power, while some other areas such as Wheaton and Fairland are more blue-collar. This inequality between regions across the county is heightened by the school system.

The cluster system links a group of public elementary schools to a group of public middle schools to a small group of public high schools. The system causes problems such as keeping wealthier towns separated from the poorer working-class towns. It has also barred districts and schools from being able to share students in case a school becomes overcrowded.

Currently, Montgomery County has failed to take any steps to help streamline its system or help the communities that are facing issues of overcrowding. After a year and a half of mostly online school only for the students, Montgomery County is focusing on getting students back into school. Studies by the University of Pennsylvania show that most students suffered a negative impact on their school and testing performance.

Some students are unsatisfied with Montgomery County’s approach to the issue of overcrowding. They feel that schools need to do a better job at giving the students more space and resources. Some students believe that the county and schools don’t even have to make major changes to the system but just smaller changes to the schools. Walter Johnson junior Quentin Williams believes that the county should start out with simple solutions.

“It is a hard thing to fix but I think the schools could space out classrooms better and expand the schools for a start,” Williams said.