Tale of two Growth Rates: district says elementary enrollment jumps, but high school drops dramatically as students flock to Running Start

It’s clear looking at the first snapshot of Snoqualmie Valley School District’s 2016-17 enrollment numbers that the fast growingSVSDLogo area is producing more students in our local schools.

The influx was especially evident at the elementary school level where enrollment jumped by about 4% this year. At the middle school level, where the increase was over 5% last year, it scaled back to about 2%.

Assistant Superintendent Ryan Stokes told the SVSD school board at its September 15th meeting that for budgeting purposes, the district pretty much nailed the overall enrollment projection, with the actual number coming in just seven students higher than predicted last June.

Stokes went on to explain, though, that even when the totals come so close to projections, it’s still complex as far as hiring and staffing goes.

One of the hiccups this year was high school enrollment – because although elementary and middle school enrollment are growing as expected, high school numbers are actually declining – and at a higher rate than was estimated.

Last year, a higher number of juniors opted to become full-time and part-time Running Start students at Bellevue College, where they receive both high school and college credits for courses. This surge to ‘BC’ left Mount Si High School essentially overstaffed. At the time, the district didn’t know if it was the start of trend or just an anomaly. Regardless, the district estimated those higher Running Start numbers into this year’s enrollment forecast, but it seems it might not have been high enough.

According to the September 2016 enrollment report, Mount Si High School has 287 FTE (full-time equivalent) 11th graders. In contrast, in September 2015, there were about 450 FTE 10th graders. So the junior class FTE enrollment declined by about 35% between 10th and 11th grade. For the past 10 years, this attrition rate between sophomore and junior year (most often attributed to Running Start) had been under 10%, but the rate has dramatically risen over the past three years.

In 2015, sophomore to junior enrollment at Mount Si declined by roughly 25%, which at the time was also higher than administrators expected. In 2014 that decline was 17%. For the MSHS seniors, enrollment declined again this year – by about another 14% between 11th and 12th grade.

Overall, Mount Si enrollment declined by 122 students this year. School FTE enrollment sits at 1,507 9th – 12th graders. At the September 15th school board meeting, Asst. Superintendent Stokes said in the coming weeks they will have more data regarding the district’s Running Start numbers, as Bellevue College did not start the school year until September 19th.

Stokes also mentioned the district may survey Running Start students to understand why so many more juniors and seniors are opting for the program – and will have more information for the school board at a future meeting.

According to some Running Start students, the draw is a shorter day – only taking three classes instead of sitting through six high school periods. Others say the draw is financial – so they can earn college credits while in high school. One student said he chose Running Start for his senior year for upper level classes he could not get at the high school.

With high school enrollment declining 5% more than estimated this year, and elementary enrollment growing more than expected, staffing becomes more complex. Stokes explained the district most often cannot move a high school teacher to North Bend Elementary, where many last-minute enrollments occurred, to teach kindergarten or 1st grade.

Although it is more difficult to hire qualified teachers just as a new school year is starting, Superintendent Aune said they had managed to hire some great teachers this July and August to address ‘hot spots’ in elementary class size around the district.

Overall, SVSD hired over 80 new teachers for the 2016-17 school year to address growing enrollment, full-day kindergarten, state mandated smaller K-3 class sizes, and teacher turnover.

So in a nutshell, SVSD is growing. But that growth, because of the apparent popularity of Running Start, isn’t being seen as expected at Mount Si High School, which can impact high school staffing and class offerings. Last year about 250 SVSD high school students were served at Bellevue College. Based on initial enrollment numbers, this year that number could climb to over 300.

The district should have more information on High School enrollment and the impact of Running Start at an upcoming School Board meeting.

School Board Member Dan Popp requested that future enrollment report also include possible dropout numbers.

 

[For the purpose of this article FTE (full-time equivalent) enrollment numbers were used, as this is how the state funds school districts. A student who takes one class at the high school may be considered in headcount numbers, but is not funded as a full-time student. Full-time Running Start students are still  MSHS students, but are not included in the school’s headcount or FTE enrollment numbers, nor does the district receive funding from the state for their education. That funding is transferred to Bellevue College.]

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