With an eye on academic stability and evening out class sizes at the high and middle schools, the Whitnall School Board approved 80 new Open Enrollment seats for the 2013-14 school year Monday.
A bulk of those seats will be available for incoming ninth-graders (20 new seats) and incoming sixth-graders (30).
The district wants to average approximately 210 students per class at the high school, 168 at the middle school and 160 at the elementary schools, Superintendent Dr. Lowell Holtz said.
High school enrollment projects have next school year’s 10th, 11th and 12th grades at 196 students or more, but only 165 projected ninth-graders, not including incoming parochial school students.
At the middle school, there are 167 projected eighth-graders and 182 projected seventh-graders, but only 122 projected sixth-graders.
“We’re trying to stabilize it,” Holtz said. “If you do that, you can have consistent academic programming instead of one year we have it, one year we don’t. You also have budget predictability.”
Some board members questioned whether or not to drop down from six core teachers at each middle school grade level to just five at sixth grade next year instead of opening up more seats.
But Holtz said the Open Enrollment state stipend of approximately $6,450 per student is more than enough to pay for the average teacher salary and benefits package of $75,000.
He said academic predictability should also be considered. Dropping down to five sections, or core teachers, at sixth grade might work next year, but the following year the district would probably have to move back up to six.
“You want consistency at your grade levels,” Holtz said.
Board member Richard Kollauf was also concerned that by adding 30 Open Enrollment seats at the sixth-grade level, combined with the eight Open Enrollment students expected to move from fifth to sixth grade next fall, potentially nearly a quarter of that class could be non-district students.
Holtz, however, said the district recently did a specific analysis of academic achievement of Open Enrollment students and found they outperformed their resident counterparts at nearly every grade level at every school.
“That’s because of the parental involvement,” Holtz said. “That’s what our district is all about.”
In addition to the open ninth- and sixth-grade seats, the School Board approved 10 seats in both first grade and K5 kindergarten, three seats in third grade, two seats in both eighth and fifth grade and one each for fourth grade, second grade and K4.
Additional seats can be added at a later date.