Kindergarten numbers down as trend continues

The school district's initial kindergarten registration numbers came in significantly lower than last year.

Classes between 160 and 170 have been the norm for the past several years but, as of Friday, only 127 kindergartners registered for 2008-09.

Declining enrollment has been a key trend in Ashland during the last decade, leading to the closure of two elementary schools and decreased funding from the state, which awards districts money based largely on enrollment.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said the district is hoping the sharp decline is a one-year blip.

"If this starts to be a trend, of course that's very worrisome," she said.

The district was expecting a lower kindergarten turnout and planned accordingly, said Helman Elementary Principal Susan Hollandsworth. The school registered 33 kindergarten students, down from 56 last year.

"We have two small kindergartens, each around 17 or 18, so it didn't affect our staffing or anything," Hollandsworth said, adding that she anticipates gaining a few more students before classes begin in September.

The school eliminated the kindergarten and first-grade blend it offered last year in anticipation of lower numbers, she said.

Bellview Elementary's kindergarten registration dropped from 45 last year to 28, the smallest class of the three regular elementary schools.

Construction likely contributed to the decline, said Principal Christine McCollom, but it was actually opportune timing. During renovations this year, Bellview kindergarten and first-grade students will attend class at Rivergate Church where the classrooms are significantly smaller than a standard classroom.

"From a facilities standpoint, it was kind of fortunate," McCollom said. "It's not something we like to see, especially in a place that has had declining enrollment trends, but we're hopeful that it will bounce right back next year."

Walker Elementary registered 42 kindergartners, compared to 54 last year. Kindergartners can also attend Willow Wind Community Learning Center and John Muir School, which registered 16 and eight students, respectively.

The district has hired a demographer out of Portland State University to update a previous analysis completed in November 2005. From 2000 to 2005, enrollment slid by 16 percent, and the report projected an additional 15 percent decline by 2010. Since that report, there were a few years where the enrollment numbers did not match the profile, Di Chiro said. The report predicted 142 kindergarten students would enroll this fall.

The demographer will analyze birth rates and provide a 10-year outlook on district enrollment. His report is expected at the November school board meeting.

Anticipation of much smaller high school classes is also a driving factor in the high school redesign the district is beginning this fall. Administrators, teachers, students and community members will spend the next two years designing and implementing a new high school system better structured for the smaller cohorts now entering kindergarten.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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