Local schools assess student losses, gains this year

Published 9:09 pm Monday, November 22, 2010

Area school districts are likely taking a closer look this week at why students are leaving and coming into their districts after seeing preliminary Schools of Choice figures.

Berrien Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) released the data it compiled for this school year last week.

“It gives districts a handle on the number of students who have come into their district for whatever reason and it gives districts a good idea of how many students have left the district,” said Kevin Ivers, superintendent at Berrien RESA.

The information is pulled from students who are currently enrolled in their respective districts, but is not detailed when it comes to the reasons behind the figures.

For example, a total of 1,312 students left the Benton Harbor school district last year and only seven came in. The decisions that led to parents pulling those students out and where exactly they ended up is information Ivers said each district would have to find out for themselves.

Niles Community Schools Superintendent Richard Weigel called the information a “base number” and said he’d already been talking to parents to find out why some of the district’s students didn’t return this year.

Niles lost 339 students through Schools of Choice and welcomed 244 students.

“I’m looking at those numbers from the perspective in that … I want to be of greater service to our community where we’re listening more to what our parents and students need,” Weigel said.

Through those conversations, he said, the district is able to respond to those needs with, for example, new offerings like the planned New Tech High School, new program partnerships with Lake Michigan College and adjustments to current offerings.

Next year, he said, parents will find alterations to the kindergarten program — dropping the every-other-day kindergarten, for full day and/or half day options.

“I believe that we’re now listening more to our community needs and our student needs,” Weigel said, adding he also believes “the students who chose to leave our district are going to want to return.”

The information provided by Berrien RESA and later forwarded on to the Michigan Department of Education basically tracks the flow of students in and out of districts. Ivers said Schools of Choice, which was instituted in the mid-1990s, continues in its original mission, developed under former governor John Engler to “encourage schools and businesses through competition.”

“It makes Berrien County one big school district,” he said.

Brandywine Community Schools superintendent John Jarpe said the information is very important to school officials.

“You can never predict that,” he said of the information. “You certainly can never count on large numbers of students either coming or going.”

Officials must look at enrollment trends, Jarpe said, adding the trend for Brandywine over the years, has shown “a slight decline.”

Brandywine lost 117 students and gained 253.

The information helps balance the focus of school officials because “you want to budget conservatively,” Jarpe said. “You don’t want to overestimate your budget,” but “you want to be appealing enough to parents that you keep the students you have.”

“It’s challenging,” Jarpe said,” but at the same time it’s unpredictable.”