ASD sees more transfers, larger class sizes

Ashland school district is on the positive side of the equation for student transfers for the first time in several years, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro reported at the school board meeting Monday night.

Schools posted a net gain of 45 students from other districts, private schools and home school students, even with the Phoenix-Talent district policy change that made it easier for its board to deny transfer to Ashland or other schools. When just inter-district transfers are compared, Ashland made a net gain of 104 students.

"We haven't seen that in a while," Di Chiro said. "That is a very good news for the district."

The extra students means extra funding, slowing the effects of decreasing enrollment.

Class sizes, however, did not improve as the board had hoped. Although elementary class sizes remained virtually unchanged, with an average of 24 students per class, middle and high school classes still exceeded the optimal class size established by the district.

At the high school, the board would like to see no more than 160 students assigned to each teacher, based on the recommendation from the accreditation group. Ten teachers are exceeding that limit right now.

"We were not as successful in that attempt as we were before," Di Chiro said. As smaller groups of students moving up in years to come, class sizes should decrease as long as staff numbers remain unchanged, she said.

Alcohol policy

The board also reviewed the drug and alcohol policy, with input from middle and high school administrators.

Administrators and board members alike said the new focus on rehabilitation was an improvement over the zero tolerance policy the program replaced six years ago.

"Zero tolerance was a battle," said AMS Vice Principal Don Valentini. "We're at a place now where if a student has a violation, we work with them."

At the high school, 25 violations were reported last year, up from 11 in the 2005-06 school year, while reported use in the annual anonymous survey decreased.

"What that means is we're doing a better job recognizing it," AHS Dean Glenna Stiles said.

Now the emphasis should be on changing the attitude toward drugs and alcohol, she said. To that end, the high school will extend the freshman "Fresh Start" mentoring program throughout the school year and start holding meetings for parents to develop relationships and share parenting strategies. The first of the parent meetings will be held Oct. 15 at 6 p.m.

Board member Ruth Alexander suggested that although the new program is far different from the original zero tolerance policy, it could still be considered zero tolerance in a sense.

"I'd like to suggest that we do have zero tolerance," she said. "You don't let people show up drunk or stoned at games."

The board also continued discussion of is five-year strategic plan, but voted to add an additional work session and reconsider the plan at the November meeting.

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