Student count

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

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora 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.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”


Indiana education policy is shaping the nation. Here’s how we can cover it together.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indiana has been at the center of things in education lately.

Policymakers often point to the state as a model of how school choice can work across the country. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has mentioned Indiana many times since her appointment to highlight examples of how Indiana’s version of school choice is helping her shape her current education agenda.

But is Indiana’s system working? Who benefits, and who gets left out? What are the stories behind the legislative battles and inside the classroom doors — especially those that open to reveal students who historically have lacked access to good schools?

Those questions lie at the heart of Chalkbeat’s mission: to cover the effort to improve schools for all children, not just the privileged few.

Indianapolis is also a laboratory for some of the most influential ideas in education reform right now — especially the shift of power toward schools and away from districts. Powerful Indiana philanthropists are helping to lead that charge, and the rest of the country is paying close attention.

As Indiana is being held up by some as a national model of new strategies, our job is to add detail that can be seen only from up close.

We’d like to invite you on our journey by informing and supporting our journalism. Below you’ll hear from Chalkbeat Indiana reporters about the stories they’re focusing on this year, but as you read, know that we can’t tell them without you. So please — reach out! Introduce yourself, submit a story tip, give us feedback or propose a First Person essay by emailing us at  [email protected]. (One of the best coffee shops in the city is half a block from our office, and we’re always game to meet readers there.)

All this work demands time and talent — neither of which are free. If every Indiana reader gave $10 right now, we could raise $260,000 to support our mission this year. That’d be enough for all these stories and more. We hope those who can will consider making a $10 tax-deductible donation here.

Dylan Peers McCoy: As Indianapolis experiments with school choice in many forms, I cover how it plays out for families and schools

Three months after I started covering Indianapolis, I heard about an unusual movement at a traditional public school.

On a Saturday morning in January 2016, hundreds of neighbors, teachers and families packed into the cafeteria of School 15. Also known as Thomas Gregg, the school had struggled for years on state tests. Indianapolis Public Schools was trying a new approach to turnaround — handing over management to charter operators. Community leaders feared that School 15 would be next.

If the school was going to be taken over, they wanted to be the ones in charge.

Almost two years later, their plan has come to fruition. This fall, Thomas Gregg became an innovation school. The same law that allowed the district to partner with charter schools to create innovation schools allowed them to give a community nonprofit oversight of the school.

The takeover of Thomas Gregg is just one of the stories that have captivated me as I have covered Indianapolis Public Schools’ effort to create a new system, where principals have more power over their schools, fewer teachers are unionized and the line between traditional public and charter schools is evermore blurry.

It’s an intricate story, and it’s easy to get lost in the fine print. The contracts for each innovation school matter, as do the decisions that oust unions from schools and the agreements with nonprofits that foster the growing collaboration between Indianapolis Public Schools and the city’s vast array of charter schools. It’s my job to live in those weeds.

Yet that thicket of discrete decisions contributes to a broader transformation. My aim is to show not only how much each innovation agreement will cost in dollars and cents, but also how district, city and state decisions are creating a new vision for the city’s schools.

The essential questions facing Indianapolis are the same questions in many cities that are embracing school choice — how to make choice work for families and create a system that gives principals freedom without creating chaos.

This year, I also aim to focus my coverage on a subject that’s often left out of school choice debates, educating students with disabilities. In a district where nearly one in five students have disabilities, it’s vital to cover the challenges facing educators and to help inform parents looking for an effective and consistent education for their children.

If my coverage is a success, I hope to kick-start an honest conversation about what kind of district we would like to see in Indianapolis in the years ahead.

Help me find the stories and conversations that are shaping our city. You can reach me by email at [email protected], phone at (508) 259-4809 or tweet @dylanpmccoy.

Shaina Cavazos: In my coverage of the General Assembly and state education policy, I dissect complex legislation and navigate the politics and lives behind it.

Here at Chalkbeat Indiana, we thought Indiana education policy was cool long before Mike Pence joined the 2016 presidential ticket, launching the state into a rush of national notoriety.

In July 2014, when I got to Indianapolis, Common Core had recently been booted. A new test was on the horizon. Teachers were reeling. Political tensions still ran high in an administration that came to be known for its spats and drama.

For a young journalist, it was heady stuff — and I came to Indiana by way of Illinois and Missouri, two states where politics aren’t exactly calm.

So I read. And I reported. And I read some more, talked to teachers and went to a bunch of meetings. I spent my first year learning everything I could about Indiana and its complicated history with education.

How, over the past decade, Indiana has been at the forefront of many controversial education changes seen across the country — switching to new state standards and tests, creating robust charter and voucher programs, and leading the way when it comes to school choice in general.

How, at this point, with a Republican, pro-school-choice supermajority in the state legislature and a Republican governor, the state seems primed to continue down its pro-school choice path, which could eventually take the shape of “education savings accounts” or expanded “course access” programs. Although, Republican state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick’s new administration could add an interesting twist, given how often she seems to deviate from the party line.

Three years later, I feel even more committed (if that’s even possible) to making sure Chalkbeat Indiana is meeting the needs of our local, city, and state communities.

Covering state policy challenges me to dissect complex legislation, navigate politics, and build close relationships with readers and sources. I want readers to understand how education is changing in Indiana and why. I want them to be armed with information so they can pick good schools and vote intelligently.

I want to be able to say, at the end of the year, that I held public officials accountable and that I did it in a way that was fair. I know I can’t do that without you. If state education policy and politics are topics that you are interested in, join me in my reporting by emailing tips, story ideas or questions to [email protected]. You can also follow me @ShainaRC.