The combination of too few eighth graders and a lot of graduating seniors is raising concern about high-school enrollment next year.
On Feb. 8, the admissions office sent out enrollment contracts, and now all the school can do is wait.
Lonna Bloedau, director of admission, said contracts have been sent to students at Sutter Middle School, Golden Hills School and even the Barstow School in Kansas City, Mo.
But the most important question—for both the admissions office and the faculty—is how many high schoolers there will be in 2013-14.
A drop in students enrolled in the high school seems inevitable.
“Since we’re graduating a large class of seniors (41) and the current eighth grade class is so small (28), it’s going to be a double challenge,” Daniel Neukom, high-school dean of students, said.
In June the high school will be graduating their biggest class since 2009 (42). But unlike that year, there won’t be a large incoming freshman class (46) to replace the seniors.
The loss of the class of 2009 was cushioned by the incoming class: this year’s seniors. That won’t happen next year.
In fact, the eighth-grade class is the smallest it’s been since 1975-76.
Therefore, the high school could be at its lowest enrollment in the last 10 years, Neukom said.
Over the past nine years, the average retention rate for eighth graders has been 55 percent. If this trend holds true, then only 15 students would stay.
And if the retention rate were to drop even lower (as it did in 2009-10, when only 41 percent of eighth graders stayed) the high school might find itself in deeper trouble.
It is this possibility—much like after the recession when the school let go of 20 employees between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years—that really scares the faculty.
“We’re planning for this situation but it hasn’t all fallen into place yet because we don’t know the numbers,” said Sue Nellis, head of high school.
“We’ve gone through up and down times. It’s difficult. People will have to make some choices.”
These choices may include an increase in electives or other courses. According to Nellis, this year some teachers chose to offer new electives to keep their full employment status.
Other teachers, like Neukom, never returned to the full employment status they had before numbers went down.
“When the ninth grade went from three sections to two sections in the 2011-12 school year, I went from a 100-percent to an 80-percent contract,” Neukom said.
The only thing standing in the way of this frightening enrollment cliff is the office of admissions.
According to Bloedau, prospective parents have been continuously touring the campus since school convened in August.
“The annual High School Forum, held on Oct. 18, was well attended and resulted in several new applications, (from parents whose children weren’t current eighth graders)” she said.
Subsequently, in the last two weeks the high school hosted two Preview Days for parents to sit in on classes, Bloedau said.
But, Neukom pointed out that no matter how admissions turn out next year, in the long run the size of next year’s freshman class doesn’t really matter.
“Next year will be an oddity,” Neukom said. “It’s a hiccup. The school anticipates full classes in the middle school in the years following, so I’m pretty sure high-school enrollment will rebound.”
Currently there are 45 seventh graders, 42 sixth graders and 40 fifth graders.
And if next year’s admissions happen to drastically decline, the majority of teachers will not be affected, Nellis said.
“We’re going to do the best we can to keep teachers fully employed,” she said.
It is this possibility—much like the crisis after the recession hit when the school let go of 20 employees between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years—that really scares the faculty.
According to Bloedau, prospective parents have been continuously touring the campus since school convened in August. School enrollment events have also shown a high interest, she said.
Ten parents of seventh and eighth graders showed up for these Preview Days.
Nellis agrees that admissions from the outside have been really positive, although she didn’t have any specific numbers.
“Next year will be an oddity,” Neukom said. “It’s a hiccup. We have so many people in the years following that I’m pretty sure it will rebound.”