Students are heading back to the classroom at Utterback Middle School Thursday, but enrollment has significantly decreased. The building was built to serve over a thousand students. This year, only 225 students are enrolled. Principal Taranika Sanders believes reputation is a factor.

We had a history and legacy of academic decline. I saw it, I was a part of it, I get it. But we are not that school anymore, she said.

For the last five years, Sanders and her staff have worked to bring Utterback from an F to a B rating. She said the teachers have worked hard to build a strong foundation for a fine arts school, but there arent enough students.

I lost five teachers last year because of our projected enrollment, which was very, very low, said Sanders. She doesnt want to lose any more teachers, so staff is eager to show what their fine arts program has to offer.

Band teacher Jacob Malkin said, The school has a very rich history in its band program and especially with jazz bands, and thats a legacy that I want to see restored.

Justin Moore is the dance teacher at Utterback Middle School. He described the focus on student individuality with a metaphor: It may not be ballet where everyones arms are like this in a perfect arabesque, but everyones going to be able to find their perfect arabesque and all be individual dancers, creatives, artists and thinkers.

The schools theater was just remodeled, but with so few students, productions have been relatively small.

Being able to do something on a larger scale would be really fun. And my kids have grown into it and enjoyed it so were really looking forward to that day when we can do that, said theater teacher Angelina Valencia.

The school also takes pride in its college-readiness electives, and its anti-bullying policy.

I know middle schoolers have that in their hearts that, Oh Im gonna get bullied by the 8th graders. No youre not, not on my watch, said Principal Sanders. If your child has struggled, I encourage you to bring them to me to bring them to Utterback.

Utterback Middle School is a green school and allows enrollment all year long for students from any part of the city. Anyone interested in touring the school is encouraged to stop by the school during school hours, or email Sanders at