Scottsdale Schools continue open enrollment clarification

This was the scene last January when the fate of closing Tonalea Elementary School was determined due to dated facilities and significant drops in total student enrollment within SUSD. (File photo)

This was the scene last January when the fate of closing Tonalea Elementary School was determined due to dated facilities and significant drops in total student enrollment within SUSD. (File photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District is eying simplification to its established open enrollment policies to better clarify student preference, kindergarten placement and who can and cannot be provided transportation when students come from outside district boundaries.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board heard a brief update on open enrollment policies Nov. 18 at the Education Center, 3811 N. 44th St.

“We are asking you to approve some additional recommendations based on clean-up language as well as recommendations from the Arizona School Board Association regarding comparison to its model policy,” said Michelle Marshall, Scottsdale Schools general counsel, at the Nov. 18 meeting.

“One of the clarifications we are trying to do is we want people to know we do prioritize in-district open enrollment applications over out of district open enrollment applications.”

Ms. Marshall says that has always been the case, but now that provision will be spelled out.

“That was true before but the language wasn’t so clear,” she said of the proposed policy clarifications.

The Governing Board meets for its next regular meeting 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Dr. P Headshot 2012

Dr. David Peterson.

Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Peterson says the district is not adopting a new open enrollment policy but rather updating its current one.

“As with all Governing Board policies, we review for compliance and accuracy, and update on a regular basis with recommendations from the Arizona School Boards Association policy service, as well as our schools and other stakeholders,” he said in a Nov. 25 written response to e-mailed questions.

“This process occurs continuously and the current policy we are working on is the open enrollment policy.”

At the Nov. 18 meeting, Dr. Peterson pointed out “we have seen a good flow of traffic to our open enrollment office.”

Perception vs. reality

SUSD has 31 schools, which includes an online offering, within its boundaries. Last year just over 24,000 students were enrolled in SUSD schools.

Last January, Scottsdale Schools reported a decrease of 307 students at the 40-day mark of the school year, according to Daniel O’Brien, the district’s chief financial officer.

The year prior saw a similar trend, school officials say.

Dr. Peterson contends the district is trying to better communicate open enrollment policies and proposed clarifications to those policies.

“We have worked hard to inform our parents and community about the requirement for open enrollment and we have heard anecdotally that some think open enrollment is the reason for larger class sizes. That simply is not true,” he explained.

“Class sizes are a function of budget and staffing. Because enrollment at all schools and all grade levels varies every year, we have to work with our school sites every year to make sure we have the proper staffing to accommodate the actual enrollment (in our elementary) and in secondary schools.”

Dr. Peterson says enrollment is more than just welcoming children to a new school site.

“Actual staffing and student scheduling is done at each site. Based on the course requests and the uniqueness of scheduling we work with each school to support their needs,” he explained.

Dr. Peterson says better communication will improve open enrollment process for prospective students and their parents.

“We are working to improve our processes to better communicate between schools and gather all information necessary to assist us in how to best serve all students,” he said.

“One of the improvements is to request that families bring the student’s grades/transcripts with them when they apply for Open Enrollment so that our schools can determine the appropriate classes a student needs when they are accepted into the school.”

Governing Board member Denny Brown says open enrollment is bringing new students to both Hopi Elementary School and Arcadia High School at a fast pace.

“It does need to be addressed, that we want to always make sure that we have room for our neighborhood kids first,” he said in a Nov. 24 phone interview.

“Now with that said, it’s almost hard to realize this conversation on the backside of the override not passing the last two years and our classes are already overcrowded.”

Mr. Brown says a happy medium can be balanced and Scottsdale Schools will be improving the open enrollment application process for prospective students.

“I don’t want to tell people to not come to our school district because I think we have great schools. But this is more of a management issue. Let’s manage this instead of making knee-jerk reactions,” he said.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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