Elementary, middle school enrollment on the rise

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 20:00
Chugiak, Eagle River high schools see decreases
Students enter Birchwood ABC Elementary recently. Though Birchwood has seen a slight decrease in enrollment from last year, numbers at area elementary schools are slightly up overall.

More local youngsters can be seen roaming the halls this school year, however, fewer students will be donning a cap and gown come May 2012.

Enrollment in Chugiak-Eagle River elementary and middle schools increased from last year, while numbers dropped at the two high schools.

Excluding Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson schools, the seven area elementary schools (Alpenglow, Birchwood ABC, Chugiak, Eagle River, Homestead, Fire Lake and Ravenwood) had a combined increase of 19 students from Sept. 30, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011.

At the middle school level, Gruening lost four students and Mirror Lake gained 21 — the most of any area school.

But the high schools are a different story. Chugiak High is down 69 students from last year and Eagle River High is down 60.

That doesn’t worry Chugiak principal Sam Spinella.

“What is happening with the numbers right now is what’s predicted for the future,” Spinella said.

According to projections from the Anchorage School District, Chugiak High should see an increase in students in the 2013-14 school year.

Last year, high school enrollment throughout the district was 416 students fewer than in 2009-10, according to ASD’s membership projection summary.

“It is estimated that high school enrollment will slightly decrease until 2012-13,” the projection reads. “Enrollment will then start to increase toward the end of the six-year period as the larger elementary and middle school numbers move into this level.”


Increases coming to high schools

All high schools should see more students, Spinella said.

“Our numbers should start coming back up in the high schools district wide,” he said.

But not as much at Eagle River High.

While the seven other Anchorage public high schools (Bartlett, Chugiak, Dimond, East, Service, South and West) are predicted to make steady gains through 2016-17, ASD is predicting Eagle River to remain relatively flat. After hitting a low point of 862 students in 2013-14, ERHS is predicted to bump back up to 904 students — four less than its program capacity — by 2016-17.

At 908, ERHS has by far the smallest capacity of the eight high schools listed in the projections. The next smallest capacity is South Anchorage at 1,628. East Anchorage has the largest capacity of 2,300.

Eagle River will always have significantly fewer students due to its capacity limit. So operating at near-capacity levels — as is predicted — would be positive for the school, said ERHS principal Marty Lang.

But that’s only if those predictions prove true.

This year, ERHS had 835 students as of Sept. 30 — 68 fewer than predicted. Chugiak High’s current enrollment of 1,160 students is 37 fewer than predicted for the 2011-12 school year.


Military “X factor”

The large military population within ERHS boundaries affects enrollment year to year, Lang said. This year, fewer military families with high school age kids moved to the area than those that left in the spring, he said.

“It’s a bit of an X factor,” Lang said.

Lang said ERHS counselors know which students might be leaving and exclude them when making in-building enrollment predictions.

“We have a pretty good heads up who’s departing each year,” he said. “Our military kids are pretty good about self identifying.”

About 42 percent of ERHS students’ families are active military, Lang said. About 40 percent of Bartlett’s students — the other school with a large military population — are from military families, principal Dan Gallego said.

While ERHS has a good idea of how many students will be leaving each year, the number of new students coming in via military is less predictable, Lang said.

“We try to predict as much as we can in the spring with what we know,” he said. “We kind of have to wait until August to see how it plays out.”

The first-year principal said “unknown summer leavers,” students ERHS anticipated would be returning in the fall but didn’t, also make enrollment predictions difficult.


Predicting enrollment

The district uses what’s know as the “cohort-survival technique” to calculate enrollment projections. The technique calculates the ratio of the number of students in one grade during one year compared to the number of students who “survive” that year and enroll in the next grade the following school year.

Changes in the data from year to year create a pattern, which is used to calculate an average survival rate to project future enrollment.

For example, if over several years, an average of 95 percent of Mirror Lake sixth graders move onto seventh grade, and 300 students are enrolled in sixth grade, the following year’s enrollment for Mirror Lake seventh grade can be estimated 285 students — or 95 percent of 300.

Kindergarten projections, on the other hand, are more difficult to calculate. Because there isn’t a preceding grade, survival rates can’t be calculated for kindergarteners.

Estimates of the number of children ages 1 to 5, births in the past five years and kindergarten trends are all used for kindergarten enrollment, according to the district.

Historical, housing and economic trends also factor into enrollment projections.

“Projections for individual schools are derived using the benchmark numbers realized through the cohort-survival and kindergarten projection methods,” according to the projection summary. “The allocation of students to each school is done by examining historical trends in individual school membership, as well as historical and projected housing and economic trends for that area.”


Enrollment up at elementary, middle schools

ASD is predicting district-wide increases at the elementary and middle school level. This prediction means the number of parents with young children is growing, Spinella said, which bodes well for high schools in the future.

Last year, 81 more students were enrolled at the elementary level, according to the district. Two years ago, there was an increase of 367 students.

“An analysis indicated those students came from outside of Alaska and many were military,” according to the district.

The district expects the increased elementary enrollment to be sustained through 2016-17.

Alpenglow and Birchwood ABC lost 10 students from last year and Ravenwood lost one. Chugiak Elementary and Eagle River Elementary gained 13 students each, Fire Lake gained three and Homestead had an increase of 11.

Chugiak Elementary added three more students Monday, said principal Susan Hindman. The school had such an influx of kindergartners, it added a fifth class this year, she said.

“We were surprised at how many kindergarten kids showed up here,” Hindman said.

Hindman said she has three full Spanish immersion kindergarten classes and two full English classes. Hindman said 22 of those students hail from Eagle River.

After seeing enrollment decrease for several years, Hindman said she’s glad to see the numbers going the other direction.

“We’re happy about that,” she said.

“I think we’re probably on that upward trend,” Hindman said. “I’m hoping anyway.”


Mirror Lake makes most gains

After dropping by 16 students two years ago, ASD middle school enrollment is projected to increase by 267 students this year.

“This increase will continue through the six-year period as the large elementary school numbers move into this level,” according to ASD.

Gruening dropped to 565 students this year, 90 below its program capacity. Mirror Lake increased to 678 students, well below its capacity of 915.

The district predicted Gruening will drop to just over 600 students by 2016-17, while Mirror Lake will have 700 by then.

The influx of 100 new military families boosted Mirror Lake’s enrollment this year, said principal Sherry Ellers. The school’s seventh grade class has gained many of those students, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of new military families move into the area,” Ellers said. “Our seventh grade is just huge.”

Like Eagle River High, military families affect Mirror Lake’s enrollment each year, Ellers said. Only during registration does the school know how many new students it’s receiving, she said.

This year, more students of military families enrolled at Mirror Lake than the number who left, Ellers said.

The increase in students was a welcomed surprise, Ellers said.

“We’re very happy to have them,” she said. “The school year really has been going very well.”


Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]

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