Student count

Aurora school enrollment continues sharp decline, but budget woes not expected

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora, Colorado helps a student practice saying and writing numbers on a Thursday afternoon in February. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

The number of students enrolled in Aurora schools this fall dropped by almost twice as much as last year, part of a trend district officials have blamed in part on gentrification as housing prices in Aurora climb.

This year, as of Oct. 2, the district has enrolled 41,294 students from preschool through 12th grade. That’s 867 fewer students than last year — and almost twice the number of students lost between 2015 and 2016.

Last October, staff told the board that district enrollment had dropped by a historic amount. At the time, enrollment was 41,926, down 643 from 2015. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district had enrolled almost 200 more students.

But in Colorado, school districts are given money on a per-student count that’s based on the number of students enrolled on count day, which this year was Oct. 2.

The district expects to see a similar decline in students again next school year, but expects that new developments start bringing more children to the district in the future.

The good news, provided in the update given to the Aurora school board Tuesday night, is that district officials saw it coming this time.

“The magnitude of the impact is not the same as last year,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. “This kind of decline is now something we will predict and budget to.”

Because enrollment numbers are higher than what officials predicted, the budget that the board approved over the summer should not need adjustments for the current year.

Last year, Aurora Public Schools had to cut more than $3 million in the middle of the year. District officials also worked on gathering input and finding ways to shrink the 2017-18 budget by up to $31 million, but better than expected funding from the state meant the district didn’t end up cutting the full $31 million.

The district may look for ways to trim the budget again next year in anticipation of another anticipated enrollment decline.

Board members asked about other factors that may be contributing to enrollment declines, such as school reputations, and asked about how staff predict future enrollment.

Superintendent Munn told the board that the enrollment decreases are changing several conversations in the district.

“APS was not in the business of marketing our schools,” Munn said. But this year, the district launched an interactive map with school information on the district website to help feature all schools, their programs and their performance measures, and has been doing outreach to the approximately 4,000 Aurora students who leave to attend neighboring districts.

Three schools also received district-level help in creating targeted marketing.

One of those three schools was South Middle School, a low-performing school in the northwest part of the district where enrollment declines are especially drastic.

This year, after receiving some marketing assistance, South was one of few schools in the district that saw enrollment increased. The school’s Oct. 2 enrollment was 825, up from 734 last year.

hi!

Chalkbeat’s newsroom is now 30+ strong, and growing. Meet our team.

Chalkbeat’s newest local leaders and our new slate of story editors. Clockwise from top: Colorado bureau chief Erica Meltzer, Tennessee bureau chief Jacinthia Jones, Indiana bureau chief Stephanie Wang, Newark correspondent Patrick Wall, story editor Julie Topping, story editor Carrie Melago, Chicago bureau chief Cassie Walker Burke, and story editor Sharon Noguchi.

We’ve added a lot of new people to our team here lately. I couldn’t be happier to tell you all about them!

First, a quick word on how we got here. Our hiring spree is brought to you partly by Chalkbeat’s expansion — hello, Chicago and Newark! — and partly because we’re beefing up the staff in existing bureaus.

Believe it or not (and some days I can’t), Chalkbeat is now one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the country, with a newsroom of 30+ and more joining every month. We are really proud of the coverage we are adding as the country’s newsrooms shrink (or vanish). We are also acutely aware that it’s not nearly enough, which is why we’re determined to make sure that 30 is just the beginning.

I’m more confident every day we can do it — not least of all because of the talented team members who joined us in the past few months. They are journalists at the top of their field, from a mix of newspapers, digital startups, and magazines. They’re smart, they know a lot about their communities, and a ton about education. And they care. A lot. They represent the perfect Chalkbeat mix. Let me introduce them.

First, our bureau chiefs:

Jacinthia Jones began this week as Tennessee’s new bureau chief. Jacinthia comes to us from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, where she worked for 20 years as a reporter and editor and most recently oversaw a team of reporters including the education beat reporter. As a reporter, Jacinthia’s beats included City Hall, religion, social services, and education, and as an editor, she steered coverage of historic changes to the city’s schools. Jacinthia grew up in the Memphis suburbs, attended Shelby County schools, and knows the city inside and out. Jacinthia’s arrival means Marta Aldrich, who has led the bureau from Nashville, will now concentrate her firepower on covering the legislature and state issues as our senior statehouse correspondent.

We’re thrilled to announce Cassie Walker Burke as our founding Chicago bureau chief, starting early next month. Cassie is coming to us from Crain’s Chicago Business, where she has served on the senior leadership team as assistant managing editor. Before that, Cassie was a longtime editor at Chicago magazine, finishing her tenure there as executive editor. Cassie is a proven leader and strategic thinker who knows how to harness the potential of digital storytelling — and she knows how Chicago works. She began her career as an education reporter and is passionate about telling stories of how education policy plays out in neighborhoods and classrooms (read these stories for proof) and will bring no shortage of creative ideas to help us make an immediate impression in the city.

Jacinthia and Cassie join two other bureau chiefs who started at Chalkbeat this winter. In Colorado, Erica Meltzer came to us from the local digital startup Denverite and immediately began incorporating community engagement into our reporting practices. (This survey about Denver parents’ school choice experiences offers one example.) She’s also jumped into covering Colorado’s legislature.

In Indiana, Stephanie Wang joined our team from the Indianapolis Star, adding to our reporting power. She is helping our reporters explain the national context of Indiana’s embrace of public education options, as well as local insights into how schools and the city shape each other. She will also be reporting on the state’s expanding early childhood education efforts.

Erin Einhorn

And in Detroit, Erin Einhorn is now leading a growing team of journalists after two years of solo (and award-winning) reporting as a senior correspondent.

We made the exciting decision to bring on more editors so that bureau chiefs can invest their time in team leadership, community engagement, and reporting and writing stories of their own.

This spring, we’ve hired two top-tier story editors to join a team anchored by Julie Topping, the Detroit Free Press alumna who joined Chalkbeat in 2016 and now works with our reporters in Detroit and Tennessee.

Our journalists in Indiana and New York have already started working with Carrie Melago, whose first day at Chalkbeat coincided with New York City getting a new chancellor. Carrie joined our team from the Wall Street Journal, where she was most recently the newsroom training editor. Before working at the Journal, Carrie covered New York City schools (and other topics) for the New York Daily News as the partner-in-crime to Erin, and thorn-in-my-side to me, with a constant stream of scoops. (See this incredible “where are they now” story about a 1994 Harlem kindergarten class.)

Starting next month, Sharon Noguchi will work with our journalists in Chicago and Colorado. Sharon recently left the San Jose Mercury News, where she covered the education beat for years. (Here are some highlights.) Sharon also has extensive experience coaching up-and-coming reporters, including through leading a summer training program for high school journalists.

 

Finally Patrick Wall, our newly minted Newark correspondent, is working with Sara Mosle, an award-winning journalist with an education focus, as he launches our coverage there. Sara, who has taught in and reported about Newark, recently wrapped up a Spencer Fellowship and is also teaching at Columbia University’s journalism school while working with us part-time. She’s written about education for many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, where we recommend reading this 1997 profile of New York City’s chancellor for a reminder of how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, in the education world.

Impressed? Me too. Now guess what: you too can join this A-list roster, because we are still hiring. We are seeking a director of product, a New York bureau chief, a second national reporter, and reporters in Chicago. Check out — and please, liberally forward! — our open positions here.

What's Your Education Story?

We can’t wait for you to hear these Indianapolis teachers’ stories — join us April 19

PHOTO: Ronak Shah

Indianapolis teachers have more stories from their classrooms to share this spring.

Over the past year, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

The stories dealt with how a teacher grappled with coming out to his students, a class that organized to save historic trees in their community, and the unexpected lesson of a mouse in the classroom.

Next month, Chalkbeat is partnering with Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library to host a story slam. The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19, will showcase tales from across Circle City classrooms. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Central Library, Clowes Auditorium
40 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, IN
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook