Marion County parents are using School Choice options to transfer children out of struggling elementary schools.
Marion County’s public school enrollment remains steady, and some parents are taking advantage of School Choice options to transfer their children out of struggling schools.
In January, the county’s 11 struggling elementary schools had a combined 300 fewer students than projected at the start of the school year. That means each struggling school on average had 27.3 fewer children, or the equivalent of 1.5 classrooms, than projected.
On the flip side, the 21 elementary schools not on a state watch list saw their combined enrollment rise 453 above the August projection. That is 21.6 more children per school, or 1.2 additional classrooms per school on average.
School District spokesman Kevin Christian said parents have more options after the School Board approved countywide School Choice several years ago. The policy allows parents to move children to any county school with available seats.
“It gives parents more options, and some decide to move their child out of schools that struggle,” Christian noted.
Some parents do not move their child from struggling schools because they know the district has added additional school resources, including a state-required extra hour reading, for example.
The January enrollment data is from the School District’s official Day 100 count, which is used by the state for funding the second half of the school year. That count was conducted on Jan. 27.
The Day 40 count, conducted on Oct. 9, determined funding for the first half of the school year. Between the two counts, K-12 enrollment declined by 62, from 43,236 to 43,174.
Officials say enrollment usually declines for every district after the October count, since some high school students drop out.
Since October, enrollment at special centers, such as alternative schools and Hillcrest School, has increased by 29 to 799. Middle school enrollment declined by 59 to 9,994, and high school enrollment dipped by 161 to 12,206, the data shows.
Since October, elementary school enrollment increased by 129 to 20,175.
When comparing actual enrollment on Day 40 to Day 100, and not to the August projection, the 11 struggling elementary schools actually have out-gained the other 21 schools in enrollment.
The 11 struggling elementary schools — Anthony, Belleview, College Park, East Marion, Emerald Shores, Evergreen, Fessenden, Greenway, Oakcrest and Wyomina — gained 70 students, while the remaining 21 schools gained 59 students.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Nancy Thrower pointed to Evergreen, which is on the state’s most severe oversight list, as a school that is attracting students back.
Thrower noted that students are making many learning gains since the school was taken over by an outside operator, former Marion principal Jayne Ellspermann, and a new principal, Ashley Kemp.
Between the Day 40 count in October and the Day 100 count on Jan. 27, Evergreen enrollment has climbed by 10. It is still 42 students under the August projection.
“There has been good news at Evergreen lately, and I think parents are starting to bring their children back,” Thrower said.
It took years for the district to again reach record high enrollment.
Enrollment climbed 7.9%, or 3,000 students, between 2003 and 2007. But when the national recession struck, thousands of people lost jobs and moved away. By 2009, the number of public school students declined to 41,827 — or 1,296 less students.
It took 12 years of slow growth for the district to bypass the 2007 threshold last October. The district enrollment has only grown by 580 students (1.3%) in nearly five years, according to Florida Department of Education records.
— Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.