Education Beat: School enrollment shows steady growth

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Volunteers serve food during the City Schoolyard Garden and Buford Middle School’s Fall Harvest Festival. Photo: Tim Shea Volunteers serve food during the City Schoolyard Garden and Buford Middle School’s Fall Harvest Festival. Photo: Tim Shea

Our Education Beat coverage is the result of a partnership with Charlottesville Tomorrow

For the third straight year, school enrollment in Charlottesville and Albemarle is on the rise.

Seven of Charlottesville’s nine schools grew, bringing the division total to 4,085 students—the first time the division’s enrollment has broken the 4,000-student threshold in the last six years. Charlottesville’s rebound is also reversing the downward trend experienced from 2003-4 to 2010-11, when the division lost 475 students.

Ed Gillaspie, the schools’ finance director, said that while no single issue caused the decline in those years, the national trend of families moving into the suburbs has affected local enrollment. Gillaspie said new residential development and innovative school programs have contributed to the increase.

“In the context of these, the economy may also have had an effect by pulling in parents who may have otherwise moved in the direction of a private school placement,” he said.

In the last year, Burnley-Moran, Clark, and Greenbrier elementary schools gained the most students at 31, 38, and 27, respectively. Buford Middle School’s numbers dropped by 15, and Venable Elementary School’s by 24.

“We had an unusually large group in kindergarten last year, which caused us to open a fourth class,” Venable Principal Erin Kershner said. “But during the school year and over the summer, we also had an unusually high number of families move away.”

Division-wide, Charlottesville’s kindergarten enrollment jumped to 447, which represents a 35 percent jump in the last five years.

Thirteen of Albemarle’s 26 schools also saw enrollment rises, and Albemarle spokesman Phil Giaramita said that while the county has seen steady enrollment increases near Crozet, this year’s growth occurred mainly in northern Albemarle. Division-wide, enrollment jumped 73 students to 13,141, which marks an increase of 558 over the last five years. Greer, Baker-Butler, and Woodbrook elementary schools all exceeded projections, posting increases of 77, 40, and 51 students, respectively.

Jack Jouett Middle School grew by 38,  while Walton Middle School dipped by 46 students. Albemarle High School’s enrollment increased by 78, bringing the total number of students to 1,869—above its capacity of 1,812.

Koleszar pointed out that year-to-year enrollment numbers can change rapidly, noting that Brownsville Elementary School declined by 31, despite its previous growth. In spite of the population increase, Koleszar said the county’s schools can still absorb additional students, and that the board will remain open to redistricting in the future.

“You can’t get too excited about one year’s numbers,” Koleszar said. “You have to look at what the long-term growth trends are, and you have to know that they can change.”

There are no imminent plans to build a new northern high school, and in July, the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee recommended building additions at Western Albemarle and Monticello high schools.

“Our philosophy has been over the last 10 years or so, where possible, that we’re better off adding seats to existing schools, because it’s a more efficient use of our dollars,” Koleszar said.

“If all of our urban ring elementary schools get up to that 650 to 700 number then we would maybe have to do something,” Koleszar added.

Albemarle survey to close October 30

Albemarle parents, staff, and community members are running out of time to weigh in on next year’s school calendar. The Calendar Priorities Survey, which division staff will use when creating the 2014-15 school calendar, and which can be taken online, will close on Wednesday, October 30, at 11:59pm.

Albemarle’s Calendar Committee “works to produce a school calendar that supports our goals to engage students, improve opportunities and achievement, and get the most productivity out of our resources,” according to the division’s website.

On November 20, staff will post the calendar’s first draft to the division’s website for community feedback. A second draft will be posted on December 13, and the School Board will discuss the calendar on January 9.

Visit www.k12albemarle.org for more information.—Tim Shea

Ashby Johnson, assistant principal, Henley Middle School. Photo: Albemarle County Schools

MEET YOUR EDUCATOR: Ashby Johnson, Assistant Principal, Henley Middle School

What has been the most challenging aspect of becoming an administrator?

I am learning a lot about our Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) system and how to help teachers set goals and measure student growth. I’m learning how to give meaningful feedback that is focused on instruction. It’s always challenging, yet rewarding, to help teachers reach their potential.

In what new ways do you support student learning?

This year, Henley is focused on developing 21st century skills, specifically the 4 Cs—communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. We have built a school-wide professional development plan in which teachers learn new strategies and share and provide feedback to others. Ultimately, the students will benefit from this work as they will be exposed to higher levels of thinking and learning in the classroom.

How will you respect your school’s history and culture while making the decisions necessary to educate young people for their future?

I’m still learning about the school’s history and culture. I think it’s important to talk to people, ask questions, and observe. Simultaneously, my main concern is student achievement, so that is always in the front of my mind. Our big emphasis is 21st century skill readiness, and my personal goal is to prepare students for college and/or careers.

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