October 10, 2004
If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep 20 years ago in a far south East Valley field — he wouldn’t recognize the J.O. Combs Elementary School District when he woke up.
The district was created nearly 50 years ago in response to parents who wanted no part of what they considered the fast-paced "city life" of Apache Junction. Residents liked their country roads and oneschool district — and that’s how it remained until the district added its second school last year.
J.O. Combs will triple its original size next year when it opens its third elementary school.
The Arizona School Facilities Board awarded the tiny district the kindergarten through fifth-grade school on Thursday, said Kristin Landry, the board’s spokeswoman.
The new school will probably be the first of many. The district is expected to grow from the current 1,000 students to about 10,000 by 2010, Superintendent Jan Langer said. That’s about half of the expected growth of the Higley Unified School District and about a fifth of Gilbert Unified School District’s.
Langer said the district is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the growth curve, but it’s an uphill battle. School districts such as Coolidge and Gilbert struggle to add classroom space to new high-growth areas while they have open classroom space in older, developed sections of their districts.
J.O. Combs has an advantage in that it doesn’t have an older section. And it has Langer, who has been with the district for the past eight years.
Langer said she consults with other burgeoning districts, especially Apache Junction — which they broke away from in 1958.
Developers in particular have Langer’s ear. "We listen to what they say," she said. "They are telling us we’ll probably have to turn around and build another elementary school as soon as this one is done — and then we need to think about a middle school."