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School board votes to reduce enrollment for Schools of Choice

April 5, 2013

FERNDALE — This fall, Ferndale Public Schools is decreasing the number of K-12 students that it will accept from outside the district boundaries.

The Ferndale Board of Education voted unanimously March 18 to allow for the enrollment of 43 new Schools of Choice students in grades K-three during the 2013-14 school year. In previous years, the district had accepted about 80 new Schools of Choice students in grades K-eight.

The change was recommended to the board by the district’s enrollment and pupil services office. According to a memo from Stephanie Hall, director of community relations and pupil services for Ferndale Schools, this reduction will allow the district to maintain its target goal of no more than 15 percent Schools of Choice students enrolled in its core K-12 programs, compared to about 16.8 percent during the current school year. Hall projected that Ferndale’s 2013-14 enrollment will include about 2,332 K-12 students, which would allow for 350 Schools of Choice students.

As school board President Jim O’Donnell explained, “We reviewed some data from school administration and found that we are keeping more Schools of Choice students within the district. This is good news because it shows that we are achieving better student retention. But because of that, we realized that we would be over our 15 percent target if we continued accepting School of Choice students at the same rate.”

O’Donnell admitted that public opinion played a role in this decision, as well.

“The Board acknowledges the comments and requests that we heard from district parents and community members asking us to keep the number of new Schools of Choice students lower and to only accept them in our lower grades,” he said. “We want our constituents to know that we are listening and that we heard their message. We want this action to be interpreted as an invitation for families to stay in the Ferndale Schools.”

Hall noted that, while the board’s decision limits the number of new Schools of Choice students, it allows the district to continue accepting the siblings of current or newly enrolled Schools of Choice applicants into fourth through 12th grades.

It also permits the continued approval of an unlimited number of new Schools of Choice students from inside and outside Oakland County at both University High School — albeit only in grades nine and 10 — and at the Digital Learning Center, the district’s alternative-education high school.

This particular component is nothing new, but it does have a significant impact on the total number of Schools of Choice students attending Ferndale Schools. For instance, during the current school year, the district had a K-12 enrollment of 2,379 students, which included 403 through Schools of Choice. However, its total enrollment — with UHS and the DLC factored in — came in at 3,712 students, which included 962 through Schools of Choice.

“That 15 percent target does not include UHS or the DLC,” O’Donnell stated. “Both of those programs use a unique model that is very different from our regular K-12 programs, so the rules for Schools of Choice are not the same.”

Still, despite the large number of high school-age students entering the district at those two schools, the board’s decision also reflects a desire to bring younger students into Ferndale. O’Donnell pointed out that lowering the age of new Schools of Choice students from K-eight to K-three should have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the program.

“In talking with teachers and others around the district,” he said, “we found that there’s a direct correlation between how long a student has been enrolled in the district and their level of success. A lot of these (Schools of Choice) kids might be coming to Ferndale because their parents feel that something is lacking with their home school district, and so now they’re trying to get them back on track. And it’s a lot easier for us to do that when we have students coming into our district at a younger age.”

While the 37 fewer Schools of Choice students being accepted into the district this fall will result in a decrease in revenue of about $259,000, O’Donnell believes that the district will be able to offset that revenue loss by further increasing its student retention. The bottom line, he contended, is that, once these adjusted numbers are in place, they should result in higher achievement for Ferndale Schools.

“This is in no way a decision that’s meant to keep outsiders out — it’s really meant to maximize the chance for all students in our district to be successful,” O’Donnell said. “We already have a very diverse school district, but now it will be made up of Schools of Choice students who are more fully integrated into our educational system.”

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