On Sept. 16, high schoolers attended Ancil Hoffman, an annual game of capture the flag. Before the game, senior Jacob Chand provided a motivational speech to the black team, who defeated the red team for the first time in six years. (Photo by Adam Akins)

All-school enrollment reaches 574 students

Country Day’s enrollment continues its upward trend, hitting a new Pre-K-12 record for the 2022-23 school year. The school welcomed 110 new students, pushing the total student population to 574, 26 more than last year’s record of 548.

Head of High School Brooke Wells points to the school’s values of diversity and inclusion as a factor attracting more families in recent years.

“We’re really clear as a school who we are. Compassion, creativity and really good academics are going together,” he said. “Kids come here because they’re safe, and they’re seen and are heard. That allows them to do really well in school.” 

Fostering equity and inclusion are major focuses in development in the school. During the summer, an all-school read of, “The Identity-Conscious Educator” by Liza A. Talusan, explored identity-conscious strategies to improve interactions within the classroom.  

“We spent a lot of time trying to understand how being aware of identity helps kids thrive and trying to create space for identity to be safe,” Wells said.

The Donohues were one of the new families drawn in by Country Day’s close-knit community values. After having a frustrating experience with the San Juan Unified School District, Julie Donohue wanted to find a close-knit independent high school that rewards academic achievement for her two boys, freshmen Liam and Dylan Donohue. She hopes the school will challenge her kids academically. 

However, Donohue worried her sons would not be able to adjust to the small class sizes at Country Day. She initially felt that it might be harder to fit in, but was later reassured when they toured the campus.

“I’m really glad that they had a morning where they went to the school and sat in classes and walked around,” she said. “My boys could immediately see it wasn’t a bunch of cliques. Everyone seemed really friendly and inclusive and were hanging out together, so they felt that they could fit in as well.”

Nonetheless, Donohue would like to see the school size grow to help with expanding activities such as school musicals and sports.

The City of Sacramento has made growth possible by raising Country Day’s enrollment cap from 544 students to 598 students by revising the school’s Conditional Use Permit, which determined the school is compatible with the surrounding community. As a result, the cap for high school has been raised from 144 to 180.

“We are technically in violation of the 1996 agreement with the neighborhood, but we have operated in good faith to try to get them to amend those terms,” Head of School Lee Thomsen said. “Most importantly, we continue to work really hard at improving traffic, parking and all the things that actually impact the neighbors.”

Thomsen said the neighbors and the school have already agreed on plans for installing a traffic light at the intersection between Monroe Street and Latham Drive. As a part of its Conditional Use Permit, Country Day has already contributed $150,000 for the construction of the traffic light but is waiting on the city to finalize the plans.

“The reality is it’ll be whenever the city decides to do it,” Thomsen said. “We’re frustrated by that because I think it’s a dangerous intersection. So the sooner the light goes on, the better, but we also really don’t have any control.”

Meanwhile, in the high school, organizing class sizes has been a focus in order to optimize the larger classes.

Although there are already 168 high school students enrolled this school year, Wells plans to keep the population under the new cap of 180 in the next few years. He said the high school is targeting enrolling 45 students per class in order to split into three sections of 15 students in core classes such as English and required sciences courses. 

High school chemistry teacher Victoria Conner has been teaching at Country Day for seven years but has recently transitioned from two sections of general chemistry to three. In doing so, she has found it more difficult to account for drop periods and keep all classes relatively at the same pace. However, it is a challenge that Conner learned to embrace.

“Having smaller classes allows a teacher to give more personalized attention to each student,” she said. 

More teachers, including Diego Panasiti and recently hired Alvaro Garcia, helped expand the English and Spanish curriculum. The extra faculty allowed Country Day to offer more courses, including English teacher Jason Hinojosa’s creative writing elective.

To adjust for more students, the maintenance team has made physical changes to the campus.

The former Academic Resource Center was renovated and combined with  High School Counselor Alicia Perla’s former room, to make one classroom for Panasiti. Outdoor seating also was increased with the addition of folding tables and two more green tables.

The art classroom will also need to be expanded, Wells said. 

“Art is very full, we have wait lists in that class,” he said. “It’s complicated because we don’t have another art studio.”

Looking forward, Thomsen is evaluating plans to replace the current multipurpose room and middle school L-buildings to get more classroom space. 

“It would give us some more classrooms and more space, but it would also do things like give the band program their own classroom as opposed to being stuck in the MP room,” Thomsen said. “But essentially, we can only go up. Because of the power lines that are on the fields, we’re not allowed to build anything underneath power lines.”

The school has already reviewed building plans from architects and project costs but will need to have a capital campaign in order to fund the renovations.  Because the school is a nonprofit organization, the funds used would have to be separate from the operational costs that sustain the school, otherwise, it would affect the salaries, expenditures and tuition.

By Garman Xu

Originally published in the Sept. 28 edition of The Octagon.

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