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The student shuffle

Submitted by on 1, October 1, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

We want to update you on the enrollment situation out at Bay Farm Elementary that we talked about a few weeks ago. Sounds like the situation has been sorta resolved, though it has created some questions about the school district’s enrollment policies.

To recap, parents were upset over plans to shut a section of kindergarten at Bay Farm and move some kindergartners to another school due to underenrollment. They feared the monster commute they’d face trying to get their kids off Bay Farm Island in the morning and the disruption for kids just starting their school careers. And they also felt cut out of the decision-making loop by the district, which they said wouldn’t even provide them with over- and underenrollment data by school.

Sounds like the school did lose a kindergarten class, per some parents we spoke with and Bay Farm principal Jane Lee. Lee said five kids were transferred elsewhere, though two have since been called back to the school. And she confirmed that the teacher for that kindergarten class is now teaching a first grade class with kids who were bumped from overloaded classes at Bay Farm and Franklin (and that’s gonna be a hell of a drive).

So how’d the district get its enrollment numbers so wrong? And if the district felt it was so important to put a lottery in place for overenrolled schools, why did they revert back to their old policy of last in, first out here?

“People who enrolled their kids in the first grade were noticed they would be diverted. The kindergarten parents weren’t notified,” said parent Deanna Dudley, who had asked the school board for more of parent voice in the decision-making. “They couldn’t have even expected their child would be turned to another school.”

And she pointed out a possible lapse in the district’s lottery for overenrolled kindergarten classes: the fact that it doesn’t cover classes that become overenrolled after the school year starts.

“If you don’t give people a number, what happens when you divert? The last one (enrolled) is diverted. They never talked about that,” Dudley said.

Principal Lee said she thought Bay Farm had spaces for eight kindergartners across four classes as of the Friday before school started, when class lists were posted. But when the doors opened on Tuesday, they had seven fewer kindergarten students than expected, leaving them 15 short of capacity.

Contractually, the district can only place 20 kids in each of its classes in kindergarten through third grade. And Lee said that while she sympathizes with parents whose kids might be displaces, it can’t afford to keep underenrolled classes open.

“We can’t have classes all over the district that are not operating at as much of capacity as possible,” Lee said. “If you asked me on a personal level, I would love to have small class sizes. But the budget is what’s driving the district to have to closely monitored enrollment.” (Still, she said the newly created first grade class has just 12 students out of a maximum of 20.)

Lee admitted that the district could check up on kindergarten enrollees sometime between registration in January and the beginning of school in September, in an effort to try to avoid a similar mess next year.

“We need to know, are they really going to show up in September,” she said.

And as to the post-enrollment lottery situation? Stay tuned …

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