A hard look: SUSD looks to decipher Kiva enrollment drop

A view of students’ backpacks at Kiva Elementary School in Paradise Valley. (photo by Scottsdale Unified School District)

Enrollment at Kiva Elementary School has been steadily declining over the past 10 years and Scottsdale Unified School District officials want to know why.

Kiva is one of two SUSD schools located within the Town of Paradise Valley.

A 44-slide presentation on Scottsdale Unified School District’s enrollment led the SUSD Governing Board and top district officials to examine the future of Kiva Elementary.

Kiva Elementary, a kindergarten through fifth-grade school, has seen a steady decline in enrollment, with a loss of over 200 students over the past 10 years.

Governing Board member Pam Kirby says past decisions to not give the community a K-8 school, followed up by removing sixth grade, has pushed local parents away.

According to population projections, however, the school is expected to experience the highest growth in students ages 5-10 by 2020, Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Instruction Dr. Anna McCauley told the Governing Board during a Thursday, Feb. 8 study session.

The meeting was held at Mohave Middle School, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road.

Dr. Anna McCauley

Dr. McCauley’s presentation covered the schools’ enrollment on the 100th day, also known as the Average Daily Membership, which is the head count of students enrolled on the 100th day and reported to state officials.

Her presentation gave the Governing Board a closer look at where students are coming from — and where they’re choosing to go.

Kiva Elementary School has nine competitive schools within a 10-minute drive of its campus, Dr. McCauley noted. It’s also expected to be one of the next schools identified for a rebuild using money from a successful 2016 election passing a $229 million bond.

The school, 6911 E. McDonald Drive, was built in 1957.

Dr. McCauley’s information showed:

  • 422 students residing in the Kiva boundary attend an SUSD school;
  • 460 total students attend Kiva;
  • 42 percent of students residing in the Kiva boundary attend Cherokee, Cochise or Pueblo schools;
  • 44 percent of Kiva students reside in the Kiva boundary;
  • 12 percent of enrolled students come from out-of-district.

Additionally, 28 percent of students residing in the Kiva boundary choose to matriculate into Cocopah Middle School, their non-designated feeder school.

Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell says she recently had a meeting at Kiva Elementary School and tasked teachers with discussing amongst themselves what types of academics they want to offer.

“What makes a parent want their child to go to your school? It was an interesting conversation to have with them — you could get two solid points, but we couldn’t get a third or fourth point out,” Dr. Birdwell said of her meeting with Kiva staff.

“Do you know what your families are looking for? What they’re shopping for? Do you know what they’re interested in? Where are the Kiva families choosing to go, and have you met that choice for your families?”

Dr. Denise Birdwell

The school has the potential to be a “choice” school for parents, officials believe. SUSD offers traditional schools, immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin, and other specialty courses at select campuses.

“Why we choose to talk about this area is because down the road we want you to be well informed,” Dr. Birdwell said, explaining the school communities are beginning to ask about the future of their rebuild. “Are they attracting? Are they losing? Who are they are? How do they define themselves? What we know is choice is part of education today.”

Dr. Birdwell says has offered field trips to school teachers and administrators — such as the Arizona School for the Arts — to see what’s happening in their fields elsewhere.

“If you don’t embrace the competitive nature of choice, you may not capture your community,” she explained. “I want to hear when they say ‘this is who we are, this is who we choose to be.’ If they choose to rebuild Kiva, we want them to be what they want.”

Ultimately, smaller schools who don’t transition into a choice school could be at risk in the future, Dr. Birdwell noted.

“A future conversation for this district — we do have some small schools,” Dr. Birdwell told the Governing Board members. “What will happen if they don’t become choice, if they continue to decline? That is a very difficult issue for us to face.”

Paradise Valley perspective

Pam Kirby

Ms. Kirby, a Paradise Valley resident and former Town of Paradise Valley council member, displayed her passion for her local school during the meeting.

“We have a huge opportunity here as a district, in my opinion,” she explained to her fellow board members, looking at Kiva’s estimated growth of 10 percent. “We can go after that 10 percent growth rate but it won’t matter if we don’t figure out why the capture rate is 21 percent.”

Ms. Kirby says historically, she believes Kiva families have the means to transport their children further than 10 minutes away for a good education.

“In fact, when I look at the kids in my neighborhood, they’re going to BASIS up north, they’re going to All Saints in central Phoenix and they’re going to Arizona School for the Arts in downtown Phoenix. They’re already the highest there with nine competitors, but that isn’t really a true picture because of the flexibility.”

Dr. Birdwell says she was shocked when she took the job at SUSD and learned there were no district schools dedicated to the arts.

“I said this when I first came to the Scottsdale district: I was shocked that we had no schools that focused on the arts because Scottsdale is an arts community. It’s known for the arts, yet our families who choose the arts have to go all the way to Phoenix,” she added.

When Ms. Kirby recounted past decisions that pushed families away, she pointed to disappointing the community by not allowing the school to be a K-8.

“There were two big declines — I actually I would say three — to Kiva. The first was when there was a big community push for a K-8, and the administration basically shut it down. A lot of families left,” she said.

“Then, as a board and an administration we kind of put salt in the wound and took sixth grade and moved it to the middle school. So not only did we not give Kiva their K-8, we took away sixth grade. That was another big boom.”

Ms. Kirby points to the competition Kiva is being compared to — most of them are K-8s.

“Interestingly, the only learning complex that does not have a K-8 is Saguaro, so all the other complexes have that particular choice,” Dr. McCauley said.

Dr. Birdwell hopes to bring the conversation back to the board at its March meeting after revisiting with staff members on the Kiva campus, she said.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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