WINCHESTER — For the third year in a row, Frederick County Public Schools broke its opening day attendance with 13,333 students arriving for the first day of the 2019-20 school year on Thursday.

That's 168 more students than the first day of the 2018-19 school year, when 13,165 students arrived. First-day enrollment in 2017-18 was 13,126.

The division's total enrollment is 13,914.

With record-breaking attendance comes overcrowding and large class sizes, said Superintendent David Sovine. He said the opening of the new Jordan Springs Elementary School in 2020 and a new Robert E. Aylor Middle School in 2021 will help alleviate some of those issues.

But capacity issues at the county's three high schools will remain for the foreseeable future. James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando high schools are each in excess of 110% of their student capacity. 

James Wood has a 1,200-student capacity with a current enrollment of 1,365, making it at 114% of its capacity. Millbrook is at 116% of its 1,300-student capacity with an enrollment of 1,505. Sherando is at 115% of its 1,285-student capacity with an enrollment of 1,482, said Steve Edwards, the division's coordinator of policy and communications. 

The school division's 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan has the construction of a fourth high school as its number one priority, with an estimated cost of $122.2 million. The capacity of the fourth high school is planned for 1,725 students. 

At Frederick County Middle School, the first day of school sparked nerves for some students who were rezoned from the James Wood Middle School attendance zone. The plan approved earlier this year by the School Board moved about 100 students from JWMS to FCMS.

FCMS seventh-grader Alexandra Moss, 13, was one of the students moved from JWMS to FCMS. She said it felt "kind of weird" to start at a new school two years in a row, but she felt more comfortable this year. She added that so far she really liked FCMS.

FCMS Principal Jerry Putt said the first day of school went fairly smoothly with all the new student students coming in. He said the school is at about 95% capacity.

He credited the first day success to school staff and initiatives made to welcome JWMS students to FCMS. In the summer, all incoming students from JWMS spent a morning at "Camp Trojan" at FCMS to develop team-building skills.

In the cafeteria on Thursday, he challenged staff to pick out which students came from JWMS and no one could tell.

"You do a quick look and you just couldn't tell," Putt said.

— Contact Anna Merod at amerod@winchesterstar.com

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