Charter school expansion impacts districts
The competition for students is fierce between the three school districts and 17 charter schools in the Quad-Cities. Students' enrollment and attendance is what drives a school's revenues and determines how much money it receives from the state.
"I think we all three serve a different segment of our population, and I think we all three are doing a great job," said Superintendent Duane Howard, Chino Valley Unified School District.
For Chino Valley, he said, that means, "We know who we are. We are a hardworking, rural school district who will do the best we can for our kids."
Preliminary numbers at CVUSD indicate student enrollment is up by about 64 students this year as compared to September 2014 numbers. The district operates on a four-day week, and includes Territorial Elementary (preschool and kindergarten), Del Rio Elementary (grades 1-4), Heritage Middle (grades 5-8), and Chino Valley High School.
In early September 2014, the district reported 2,311 students. This week, 2,375 students are attending CVUSD schools.
"We've been working very, very hard. One of the things our students in Chino Valley used to experience is every time they changed a school, it was an invitation to leave the district," Howard said.
Many districts report the same situation: as students leave elementary school for middle school, and leave middle school for high school, they use the move as an opportunity to enroll in a neighboring district or charter. Chino Valley also gains students at these times, Howard said.
Another change that has made a difference is going from four different school mascots to one.
"We are now Cougars, from preschool Cougars to high school Cougars. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of family," Howard said. "We've also worked terribly hard getting our scores up. Last year, we compared very well with our neighbor schools."
CVUSD is the smallest district with Prescott second at about 4001 students and Humboldt coming in as largest at 5878 students.
Superintendent Joe Howard, Prescott Unified School District, predicted a loss of students this year with the expansion of BASIS charter school from grades 5-10 to grades K-11.
"We predicted a loss and we're seeing that, and we are prepared for that," he said. "These charters set up in towns with highly successful school districts and focus on taking the top performing students. There is not an infinite amount of kids in the area."
PUSD enrollment is down about 300 students from this past year.
Howard researched other BASIS schools around the state and said trends show public schools bounce back after an initial loss of students to BASIS schools.
"They told us 'This is what you'll see happen,'" he said, adding that some BASIS students came back the following year or sooner, as quickly the fourth day of school.
Howard said he expects to see a return of students next year and even throughout this school year "as families realize all that PUSD has to offer."
Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Dan Streeter said he is encouraged by the number of students attending HUSD schools this year.
"Across the district, our enrollment numbers look strong," Streeter said. "We have seen enrollment increases at Bradshaw Mountain High School, Glassford Hill Middle School, Coyote Springs Elementary and Mountain View Elementary schools. Several schools have been enrolling 10-20 students per day."
Enrollment, including Bright Futures Preschool, is up by nine students, from 5,869 in the 2014-2015 school year to 5,878.
Humboldt administrators look at class cohorts in the spring to make predictions of how many students will move up to the next grade level and how many teachers each school site will need. Streeter said most campuses came in pretty close to original projections. He believes a lot of the increases have to do with the signature programs these schools offer.
Liberty Traditional School (grades K-8) is trending higher than anticipated, specifically in the middle school grades; Bradshaw Mountain Middle School near Dewey-Humboldt, has been a little lower than anticipated.
"What we have really seen is the enrollment decrease at Bradshaw Mountain Middle goes hand-in-hand with the increase at Glassford Hill. Geography continues to be a challenge for BMMS. I believe that we are seeing families living in Prescott Valley viewing Bradshaw Mountain Middle as a challenge for pick-up and drop-offs due to its location. This is a little unfortunate as students are missing out on an outstanding campus with incredible teachers," Streeter said.
Humboldt, as well as the other districts, finds some of their students moving to a charter school and then returning to the home district. The district tracks the movement as best it can. Parents provide much of the information, and they don't always disclose where or why a student is moving, he said.
"What we have really seen is that there is typically a one-to-one transfer amongst the established charter schools," he said. This refers to students leaving Humboldt for a charter school and students entering Humboldt from charters.
One positive outcome of the district vs. charter rivalry, however, has been an increase in quality of curriculum, instruction and professional development at nearly every school.