head count

Colorado’s student population is growing — but not so fast

Paris Elementary School teacher Elizabeth Rodriguez checks in with students on Aug. 28 2015. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Colorado’s student population this school year grew at its slowest rate since 1989, further evidence that shifting demographics are having a significant impact on public schools.

The state added fewer than 6,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, an increase of 0.7 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the state education department.

That is lower than the 1.1 percent growth rate in 2015-16, and shy of the average growth rate of 1.3 percent in the past 20 years, the department said.

Colorado has not seen a decrease in enrollment since 1988.

The slower growth comes as Colorado’s population is booming. The state added 100,986 people between 2014 and 2015, making it the second-fastest growing state in the U.S.

The department did not speculate on why the growth slowed. But districts across the state have already begun to notice effects of a low birth rate among millennials, who are fueling much of the state’s population gains. A higher cost of living also is driving some poor families out of the Denver metro region.

Some school districts, including Aurora and Jefferson County, have begun to grapple with budget cuts because the state funds its schools primarily on how many students they educate.

The state reported the greatest enrollment growth in a region came from outside metro Denver — evidence that higher housing costs are causing families to uproot themselves. Districts in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, Greeley and Pueblo, grew by 1.4 percent, an increase of 3,513 students.

Meanwhile districts in “outlying towns,” an official department term to describe places such as Alamosa, Canon City, Roaring Fork, saw growth of 2.3 percent, an increase of 1,626 students.

Denver metro area schools grew by only 459 students for an increase of 0.1 percent.

The fastest growing district with more than 100 students was not a district in the traditional sense, but the state’s Charter School Institute. The institute, which opens and supervises charter schools across the state, grew by 1,352 students, a 9 percent increase from 2015. One reason for the growth: four new institute-chartered schools opened in 2016.

Denver Public Schools saw the second largest growth of a district with more than 100 students this year with an increase of 897 students, representing a 1 percent increase. That’s a slower rate than in recent years.

Hispanic students accounted for the largest increase of any racial or ethnic minority in raw numbers. Their numbers grew from 300,107 to 303,573 — 1.2 percent increase. However, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander students showed the greatest percentage growth — 7 percent.

The Adams 12 Five Star Schools district had the largest drop in enrollment, from 39,287 in 2015 to 38,818 in 2016, a decrease of 1.2 percent.

The largest 15 districts and their current student enrollments are:

The state counts how many students are in its public schools every October.

pick a school

Denver touts record participation in school choice process

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Students at McAuliffe International School. The school was among the most-requested this year. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Even as more Denver families participated in the annual public school lottery this year, about four out of five still got into a first-choice school, district officials announced Thursday.

More than 27,000 families submitted school choices, up 17 percent from last year. Officials attributed the big jump to several factors, including additional help the district provided to families to fill out the choice forms, which were online-only this year.

The window of time families had to submit choices was also pushed back from January to February, which gave families more time to tour schools and rank their top five choices.

Match rates – or the percentage of incoming elementary, middle, and high school students who got into their first-choice schools – dipped slightly from 82 percent last year to 81 percent this year. Brian Eschbacher, the district’s executive director of enrollment and planning services, said that’s not bad given that nearly 4,000 more families participated this year.

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said officials are “thrilled” with the record participation. The district received its first choice form at 12:02 a.m. on February 1, just two minutes after the window opened, she asid. The window closed February 28, and families found out last week which schools their children got into.

The reasons families participate in the lottery vary. Some want to send their children to charter schools or to district-run schools outside their neighborhood because they believe those schools are better. Others may be looking for a certain type of program, such as dual-language instruction.

This is the seventh year the 92,600-student district has used a single form that asks families to list their top five school choices. Those choices can be district-run or charter schools.

In part for making it relatively easy for parents to navigate the lottery, Denver has been named the best large school district in the country for choice by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution think tank for two years in a row.

The district especially encourages families with children entering the so-called “transition grades” of preschool, kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade to submit choice forms.

This year, the biggest increase in participation came at the preschool level, with 777 more families requesting to enroll in preschool programs, a 17 percent increase from last year. The second-biggest increase was at the high school level, with 359 more families participating.

The most-requested high school was the city’s biggest, East High School in east-central Denver. East is one of several more affluent Denver schools participating in a pilot program that gives preference to students from low-income families who want to choice into the school.

Last year, the pilot program resulted in every eighth-grader from a low-income family who applied for a spot in East’s freshman class getting in. Results from this year are not yet available for East and the other schools participating in the program, Eschbacher said.

The most-requested middle school was McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver. The most-requested elementary school was Swigert International School, which is also located in the northeast and follows the same International Baccalaureate curriculum as McAuliffe.

Shutting down

Two charter schools led by former Mayor Willie Herenton will close

PHOTO: The Commercial Appeal
Willie Herenton

A former superintendent who now leads six charter schools told Shelby County Schools he will close both of his network’s high schools this summer.

Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy were already in danger of losing their charters because of poor academic performance. The charter network is led by former mayor and Memphis City Schools superintendent Willie Herenton.

In a letter to parents, Herenton said the decision was based on a shortage of “highly qualified” teachers. The letter was provided to Chalkbeat by Lemichael Wilson, who has three sons enrolled in the charter network.

“The market for securing the caliber of high school educators that meet these qualifications is very competitive and has made it increasingly challenging for us to compete as we would like,” the letter said, referring to meeting requirements such as proper certification for classes students need to graduate.

Wilson described the rate of teacher turnover at the arts and technology school as “ridiculous.” He recalled that in one year, his son had multiple teachers for a single class.

“I chose Du Bois because of the reputation of Dr. Herenton being with Memphis City Schools as superintendent and thought that the school would have an educational focus that was stronger than what it was — that the governance of the school would be better than what it was, and the administration would be better than what it was,” he said.

The decision affects a total of 287 students enrolled at both schools as of Feb. 1, according to Shelby County Schools data. That’s down from 322 students enrolled last year.

The high schools in Whitehaven and Southeast Memphis opened in 2013 and 2014 and are two of six in Herenton’s charter network. All but one of them are in danger of being shut down by the state next year because they rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools with low student test performance in Tennessee.

The arts and technology high school was also one of seven charters under Shelby County Schools that are in danger of closing if they don’t improve within two years, based on the district’s own evaluation. Three of those seven are in Herenton’s network.

Reached by phone, Herenton referred all requests for comment to Shelby County Schools, though the district did not play a role in closing the school this year.

A Shelby County Schools spokeswoman said the district would work with the charter network “to ensure that families are informed of their options” for next school year.

A request for comment from the charter network’s board chairman, Ernest Strickland, was not immediately returned.

The full letter is below: