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Board eyes school enrollment

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Fewer students are leaving the Yellow Springs school district to attend other area school settings than in the past couple of years, but the number is still of concern, district Superintendent Mario Basora told the school board during its regular meeting Thursday, Dec. 14.

With a total of 752 students enrolled, an additional 88 are getting their education elsewhere this school year. In 2016–17, the number was 89. The year before, 102, according to district records. The number had stood at about 100 for the five years prior, according to past News reports.

While the trend appears to be headed in a positive direction, Basora said that doing nothing could lead the number to stay stagnant or begin to rise again.

He noted that two particular draws, Stivers School for the Arts, in Dayton, and Dayton STEM school, both have “high-quality facilities that have been renovated.” Six local students are attending Stivers, and five are at the STEM school.

Of the 88 students pursuing alternative educational options, 38 are attending private schools in the area, with the largest group, 27, going to the Antioch School. Typically, 25–30 local students attend the pre–K through sixth-grade private alternative school on Corry Street each year. 

The other private schools currently receiving local students are: St. Brigid (2) and Chaminade Julienne (3), both parochial schools; the Miami Valley School (5), an independent, college-preparatory pre-K through 12th-grade school south of Dayton; and Marburn Academy (1), a nonprofit independent day school near Columbus for  students with learning disabilities.

Sixteen students are attending one of five area community, or charter, schools — ECOT (6), Ohio Virtual School (5), Ohio Connections Academy (2), Patriot Prep Academy (1), Fairborn Digital (1) and TRECA (1).

Three students are attending school in the Greenon districts through open enrollment there, and one is going to Global STEM in Springfield. Eighteen children are being home-schooled, and one student is accompanying a teaching parent to Fairborn, according to district information.

YS News interviews concerning enrollment earlier this fall showed that families choose to go outside the district for varied and personal reasons.

In a group of five middle-schoolers whose families were car-pooling to Stivers School for the Arts, one family cited incidents of bullying and concerns over academic progress as prompting their departure from the district. At the same time, parent Allen Hunt noted that Stivers offers language classes at the middle-school level and piano lessons with the director of the Dayton Opera Chorus. 

Other parents said their child’s ambitions in visual or the performing arts are what led to their decision to enroll them in a school dedicated to those pursuits.

“Yellow Springs is a very great school district,” said parent Philip Bottelier, whose daughter, Sophie, is an eighth-grader at Stivers. “But when your child is passionate about theater and voice, and you can afford it, the choice is simple.”

The multiple and varied educational options increasingly available to families has created a market-like environment, Superintendent Basora told the school board Dec. 14.

“Like it or not, we are in competition for kids,” he said. “We have to continually stay on our game.”

Broken down by school, nearly 370 students are at Mills Lawn, more than 120 are at McKinney Middle School and about 260 are at Yellow Springs High School. Grades range in size from 38 in first to 75 in 12th. Kindergarten, second, fourth and seventh grades all have 57 students each.

This year’s school population total compares to last year’s final figure of 759.

Both years’ numbers were bolstered by the district’s open enrollment policy.

Of the current student population, 190 children are attending through open enrollment, traveling from 17 other home school districts, according to the YS district office.

Implemented in the 1994–95 school year with an initial 25 students, the district’s open enrollment policy is capped by state law at 33 percent of the total school population. Within a decade, open enrollment students topped 100 in number, with the cohort growing steadily thereafter. Last year’s total was the highest ever at 207, nearly 30 percent of total enrollment.

Basora told the school board that this year’s numbers were kept intentionally lower, and no new students were admitted through open enrollment.

As in-district enrollment has declined over the years from a high of more than 1,000 students in the early 1970s, open enrollment has helped keep numbers steady in the mid-700s.

According to district records, YS had 945 students in 1976. The numbers declined into the 800s by the end of the decade, into the 700s in the 1980s and the 600s in the 1990s.

Local enrollment has held fairly steady at 550 to 600 students since the early 2000s.

Local population and enrollment projections compiled by FutureThink, a consulting firm contracted by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, indicate those numbers remaining steady for the next decade.

Open enrollment students not only increase school numbers, but they also bring more money into the district — more than $1 million annually at current numbers, according to Basora in past interviews. What’s more, they also account for a significant percentage of the district’s diversity.

A breakdown by ethnicity and/or race shows a current school population that is predominantly white. According to district figures, 70 percent of this year’s student population identify as white, 18 percent as multi-racial, 8 percent as black, 1.5 percent as Asian, 1.3 percent as Hispanic and less than 1 percent as American Indian or Alaskan native.

In other school board business Dec. 14:

• Director of Advancement Dawn Boyer presented a biannual update on the work of her one-person office. The district has so far raised $11,262 toward a goal of $20,000 for the Yellow Springs Public School Fund, which helps sustain PBL, compared to $8,177 at this time last December. The total fundraising goal for all initiatives is $150,000. Grants have been awarded from a variety of sources: $2,834 in Department of Defense STEM grants came in for FIRST robotic teams; a $5,180 Martha Holden Jennings Foundation grant helped with Into the Wild; a $22,122 Straight A grant was secured for technology; and $21,795 in Yellow Springs Educational Endowment grants helped support various teacher projects, according to Boyer’s report.

Sponsorships for the eighth-grade trip in the amount of $4,750 came from Miquel’s Tacos and the Village’s Human Relations Commission; $2,500 for FIRST teams came from Henny Penny, SAS Automation and an anonymous source; and $500 from the Human Relations Commission helped support the first-grade kindness porject. 

• The board thanked out-going member Anne Erickson for her service after filling the uncompleted term of Evan Scott. For her part, Erickson said the work had been an honor and a “healing experience” after a previous board tenure that had been more contentious. “After being involved in the schools for 25 years, the collaboration and communication [between the board and administration} is unprecedented, and the quality of our teaching staff is unprecedented,” she said. “From 25 years ago, this is a totally different world here.”

• The board approved hiring Amanda Kinney as a long-term sub for Linda Kalter, who will be taking a leave of absence Jan. 9–Feb. 28. Kinney was a student teacher in Yellow Springs last year and has since filled other substitute positions.

• The board set the annual organizational meeting, during which recently elected Steve McQueen will join the board and board leadership will be determined, for Jan. 11 at 6:30 p.m. A budget hearing will follow the meeting.

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