Declining enrollment, poor graduation rate driving debate
The East Valley School District is looking for ideas to make sweeping changes throughout the district with the hopes of better serving the students and bringing in more nontraditional students.
The district formed three re-visioning committees in February to come up with ideas for the district. There was a committee for elementary, middle and high schools.
The three groups each met a couple of times a month and Wednesday evening, they offered their recommendations to the school board during a special meeting at East Valley High School.
“We are in changing times,” said Superintendent John Glenewinkel.
Glenewinkel told the parents and teachers at the meeting enrollment is dropping in the district, 30 percent are not graduating and the buildings are aging and in need of upgrades. He said that although the district is fiscally sound right now, that isn’t sustainable. The district spends almost $500,000 a year to keep what they have up and running.
“We can’t keep doing this,” he said.
Glenewinkel explained that the district must do more to retain the students they have and to attract other students from outside of the district to choice into East Valley. He said that for every student the district loses, it also loses $5,000 in revenue. He said that the district receives revenue enough to pay for one teacher for every 20 students enrolled.
In the 2007-’ 08 school year, the high school had 1,300 students enrolled. That number jumped to 1,350 the following year, but it fell to 1,200 for the 2009-’10 school year. This fall, Glenewinkel expects high school enrollment to be less than 1,000 students.
Glenewinkel said the committees spent a lot of time researching different learning models. He said that he expects some of the changes will make people angry or uncomfortable.
“And that’s OK,” he said. But when the committees confronted some of the difficulties and deficits in the district’s system, they decided they wanted more for the students.
“We owe our kids more than that,” he said.
The suggestion from the high school revisioning committee was to offer students a choice of three strands of education: a vocational strand, an academic or AP strand, and a fine arts strand. Once a student demonstrates mastery of core subjects, he or she can move on to one of the strands and immerse themselves in those subjects.
“We have to make learning the goal,” Glenewinkel said. “Graduation is not the goal. Learning is the goal. Test scores are not the goal. Learning is the goal.”
He emphasized that once a student makes learning a priority, the test scores and graduation rates will fall into place.
The middle school committee decided that change must occur in order for the students to be successful. The district must build strong relationships with the community and parents. The committee found that once a student reaches the middle school age, parent participation in the school drops significantly.
The elementary school committee floated what could be a controversial idea. Instead of several elementary schools feeding into a middle school, they proposed having schools that go from preschool through the eighth grade, eliminating the transition between schools and hoping that the older students could mentor the younger ones.
They suggested not sending the eighth graders back to an elementary school, but instead of the fifth graders moving on, they would stay at their present school through the eighth grade. The first year of the change would be a preschool through sixth grade school, the second, preschool through the seventh grade and the third year would be the first preschool through eighth grade.
One parent said she was getting the impression that this idea was what the district seemed to be leaning toward. She said she felt like the committees had come up with these plans without letting the community know about them and if parents couldn’t make it to these meetings their opinions didn’t count.
She said she has been doing her own research and found that a preschool through the eighth grade model would not work.
A middle school committee member said she felt it didn’t matter who attended the meetings, but they want to receive as much input as possible from the parents. She suggested e-mailing the district with her ideas.
The middle school committee member said that her committee wasn’t necessarily in favor of a preschool through eighth grade model, either. Quincy Edmunds, middle school committee chair, said they were asked by the elementary school committee what they thought of the idea. They took a vote at the middle school meeting and most leaned toward a preschool through fourth grade, then fifth grade through eighth grade schools instead.
Some parents worried the committees wanted to turn all of the primary schools into another Continuous Curriculum School. Glenewinkel said that CCS doesn’t necessarily work for all students and didn’t want to make that school the model for the rest of the district.
“It’s too small to be the mold,” he said.
Glenewinkel said the school board would meet Thursday afternoon to discuss the recommendations they heard Wednesday night. There will be another special meeting in mid-August to put a plan up to the community for review. The committees will take comments and criticism and adjust the plan accordingly.
Sometime before December, the board will decide if it would like to put a capital levy before the voters. If the board decides to do so, voters could have their say on the matter in February.
“This is an exciting opportunity,” Glenewinkel said.
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