Enrollment numbers plague efficiency



August 11, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Disproportionate numbers at Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley prompt change in policy


USD 257 administrators hope to limit the overcrowding typically experienced at Lincoln and Jefferson elementary schools by updating student placement policy and demanding adherence to attendance center boundaries.
After last week’s enrollment days, it became clear to administrators that once again, overcrowding and under-crowding in Jefferson, Lincoln and McKinley elementaries would plague another school year, Superintendent of Schools Brian Pekarek said Wednesday afternoon from his district office.
Not one of the three buildings had adequate numbers for their capacity, each having two classrooms for each grade level offered. The most extreme swing in student numbers, Pekarek said, was at McKinley, which saw 97 students enrolled after enrollment days.
“A typical year for McKinley is between 130 and 135 students,” he said. “That’s a 30 percent drop in one year.”
So where are these students going? Contrary to McKinley, Jefferson and Lincoln saw their student numbers increasing. Since the 2007-2008 school year, Jefferson has plumped from 232 students to 277, while Lincoln grew from 208 to 230.
Socioeconomics contributes to the shift in numbers, said McKinley principal Lori Maxwell.
“We’re qualified and we have a lot to offer,” she said. “Because of the perception in the community — we’re located in the south part of town — there’s kind of a stigma.”
The disproportion in student numbers among attendance centers is wasting valuable resources, Pekarek said, pointing to the first-grade level of USD 257 as a key example. At McKinley, 14 first graders are enrolled compared to Lincoln’s 45. Despite the inequity, each school is married to having no more and no less than two first-grade teachers due to classroom availability.
“When we’re trying to be as efficient as possible, it’s hard to justify the waste,” Pekarek said.
The residential boundaries for the elementary schools, dictating which children go to a certain school, have been in place for a years, he said. However, it was not strictly adhered to.
“Now, we’re going to have a policy and we’re going to stick to that policy,” Pekarek said.
Monday afternoon, Pekarek and other administrator met to discuss the issue. They amended the elementary schools’ handbooks by setting guidelines for student placement protocol, reaffirming the existing boundaries and demanding adherence.
“The USD 257 Elementary Attendance Center Boundaries Policy should be enforced,” the handbooks read.
EXPECTED to be adopted as district policy by the USD 257 board Aug. 22, the updated policy specifies how to move students in the event of overcrowding.
After enrollment, if numbers are inequitable, administration will make the following graduated steps until proportionate classroom sizes are met.
1. Students previously assigned to an attendance center remain there if home attendance center suffers from overcrowding.
2. New and out-of-district students enrolled in an overcrowded attendance center will move to next available attendance center.
3. Building principals will seek volunteers for reassignment due to overcrowding.
4. Picked at random, siblings may be split and moved to a less crowded attendance center.
5. The district will draw names from the remaining general student population to be moved to a less crowded attendance center.  
Having a set “black and white policy in place” goes a long way, Maxwell said. Under the new policy, each first-grade classroom will have 20 or 21 in all three buildings, as well as similar class size scenarios in the rest of the grade levels. And “we didn’t even get to step four,” she said.
A structured placement policy, Maxwell said, is also beneficial to the students.
“If students enrolled late and they had to come to McKinley because they were full at one of the other two schools, typically when the next enrollment came around, the student would go to the school they should have been in the first place,” she said. “So this protects that child so they’re not bounced back and forth between the schools.”
Although still waiting for final board approval, Pekarek said it’s a good, fair policy that has administrative and staff support.

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