Only a few weeks into the new school year and Country Day is setting new enrollment highs and working to meet the challenges that come with that.
The year started on Aug. 31 with 122 of the 548 Pre-K-12 students being newly enrolled, a new school record. And that’s 85 new families. The previous record was during the 2002-03 year with 112 new students.
Dana Vargo, director of admission and enrollment, said the school expected 510-515 total students for the 2021-22 school year.
Head of High School Brooke Wells credited the increase in new students to the school’s mission statement.
“All teachers and students believe in the same mission, the idea of having a compassionate, creative and critical thinking-based education,” he said.
“The identity of the school drives the idea of people wanting to be here and people enjoying it once they come. I don’t think other schools have that exact combination of support academically or any other interests that kids are interested in pursuing.”
He added that, indirectly due to COVID-19, more people are moving from the Bay Area to Sacramento, which allows for more potential interest in Country Day since the cost of living is much higher in the Bay Area.
Head of School Lee Thomsen is proud of the school’s ability to keep students from eighth to ninth grade. This year,
“More than anything, I was worried that we might be looking at a normal fall where people would go back to public school, but I think experience shows us that once people get the experience of Country Day, it’s hard to leave,” Thomsen said.
Head of Middle School Rommel Loria said the school’s most attractive quality is its small student body.
“Our teaching and learning are more individualized,” Loria said. “Because we are so small, we were able to go back in-person in November of last year, which was much earlier than other schools in the area. That’s a really important factor for parents because we’ve all seen firsthand that online learning can’t compare to sitting in a classroom.”
A new student, freshman Ashley Lattak travels an hour to school every day from Grass Valley. Small class sizes and personalized experience drove her to choose Country Day.
The combination of new students and student retention has affected the overall growth of the school.
The overall high school enrollment increased from 144 to 150 students. The middle school increased from 118 to 145 students. And the lower school increased from 241 to 253 students.
The school is under a conditional use permit granted by the City of Sacramento which caps enrollment at 598 — 180 in high school, 150 in middle school and about 268 for lower school. While the middle school aims for 17 students in each class, the high school’s goal is three sections of 15 students per grade.
The school is currently focusing on growth for the high school because it is the school’s smallest section and has space to grow.
Thomsen said 598 students is the highest number of students that the school is able to accommodate given the current space. The school is not able to extend to the south of the property because of the power lines.
To accommodate more students, the school wants to build a new performing arts center and a two-story building to replace the current multi-purpose room and middle school L-shaped buildings. The new building, estimated to cost anywhere from $5-15 million, would be used by both middle and high school students. The city approved the plan, but the school is working with the neighbors to create a long-term plan to avoid traffic congestion.
newly enrolled students
newly enrolled students
newly enrolled students
Especially during COVID-19, accommodating class sections and classroom space has been difficult.
Because of the social distancing requirements and a need for more space with more students, each grade now has three sections, and there has been an increase in staffing. In order to support three cohort schedules in each grade, two new middle teachers were added to teach Spanish and English.
New Spanish, English and art teaching positions have all been added to the high school to accommodate for this year’s increase, Wells said. The ninth and 10th grade required class subjects have the biggest classes, and teachers often have to share teaching spaces. Wells hopes to have one more physical classroom by the 2022-23 school year so fewer teachers have to share classrooms.
Parking and drop-off times have also resulted in a back-up of cars on Latham Drive.
Loria said the school is considering a delay in start and end times between each school-level section to avoid traffic. Delaying times within each school section would make scheduling more difficult since students in different grade levels attend the same class.
Wells said this problem isn’t as serious with high school students and will most likely improve after the first month because high school students tend to have extra commitments that force them to come early and leave late.
Another enrollment impact is the lack of seating during lunch in the high school quad. Wells and Director of the Physical Plant Jay Holman plan to add new tables and seats to the quad as soon as possible.
According to Thomsen, the Parent’s Association is working to address the traffic issue. They are encouraging carpooling, walking and biking as well as considering more shuttle service. Currently, students may use two shuttles — one from the Folsom area and one from the Davis area.
To enroll at Country Day, families must fill out an application. Prospective students submit a writing sample and a letter of recommendation. Then, there is a visit day and an interview. The school’s website explains this process and its tuition assistance program.
Of the 278 applications last year, 174 students were accepted.
The most important decision when accepting applications is their fit in school, Loria said.
“It’s about the mission appropriateness of the family and how they line up with the way that we teach along with their open-mindedness to our curriculum.”
— By Sanjana Anand
Originally published in the Sept. 21 edition of the Octagon.