School enrollment continues to drop

RCS parents peeved at teacher transfers

By Maureen Robertson

Ramona Unified School District reported a student enrollment of 7,238 at the beginning of the 2002-03 school year. Since then, with the exception of one year, school officials have witnessed a steady decline in enrollment, with 6,155 students enrolled in district schools last week.

“As we know, it’s the key to finances,” Assistant Superintendent David Ostermann said during his enrollment report last Thursday. “It makes up the ADA (average daily attendance) that generates the dollars for us.”

Enrollment determines about 70 percent of the district’s revenue, he said.

The district’s official enrollment report to the state will be on Oct. 5 — California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) reporting day — when every school district in the state reports its enrollment.

While the district has 87 students less than the 6,242 enrolled last year, that’s 54 more than projected, said Ostermann.

Reviewing Ramona enrollment trends, Ostermann noted that the 426 kindergartners enrolled this year is up from 422 last year and 406 two years ago.

“It’s not that 500 we were used to 10 years ago, but we’re having some consistency, trending just a little bit up,” he said.

The report shows 2,954 students in kindergarten through grade 6, down from 2,974 last year and 3,028 in 2009-10.

Following is an enrollment comparison at each of the district’s six elementary schools:

‘10-11 ‘11-12 Diff.

Hanson 612 584 -28

Ramona 480 502 +22

Barnett 469 494 +25

James Dukes 540 520 -20

Mt. Woodson 507 502 -5

Ramona Community 366 352 -14

The same comparison at the district’s secondary schools for grades 7-12:

‘10-11 ‘11-12 Diff.

Olive Peirce Middle 835 827 -8

Ramona

Community (7&8) 114 94 -20

Ramona High 1,859 1,867 +8

Montecito High 148 138 -10

Mountain Valley

Academy 151 127 -24

Future Bound 70 58 -12

Based on enrollment at each school at the beginning of the school year, adjustments are made in classroom and teacher assignments. Two teacher transfers from Ramona Community School, one of the district’s alternative schools, drew criticism from two teachers and three parents. Due to time constraints, another teacher and parent who had submitted requests to speak did not.

“We have heard you, all those who have spoken, we have listened,” school board President Rodger Dohm said. “...We are aware of those who were not able to speak, and we appreciate the fact that they’re here, too, representing the issue, and we thank you.”

“It’s the first time that I really felt like a chess piece in a game where I had no input, no time to think, and just picked up and ready to be moved,” said Margaret Millen, Mountain Valley Academy (MVA) second/third-grade teacher who is in her 10th year at the school.

Ramona Community operates two alternative education programs: Montessori for kindergarten through grade 8 and Mountain Valley Academy, a home school/public school partnership, from kindergarten through grade 12.

The teachers learned the school would lose two teachers on the fourth day of school — one from the Montessori program and one from MVA — and the district asked for volunteers, said Millen, adding, “I knew I was low man on the totem pole.”

Susan Nelson, MVA sixth/seventh-grade math and science teacher, volunteered, as did Laura Franz, second/third-grade Montessori teacher. Nelson is now teaching a fourth/fifth-grade class at Ramona Elementary, and Franz is teaching fifth grade at Mount Woodson.

“She told me she could not see me uproot my children from our program, put them in a new school,” Millen said of Nelson. “...She needs to be commended. In my mind, she’s the all-time teacher of the year.”

In a third teacher transfer, Dallas Meadows went from Hanson Elementary to Barnett Elementary.

Earlier in the meeting, Donna Braye-Romero, Ramona Teachers Association president and a kindergarten teacher at Ramona Community School, commented about the three teacher transfers, saying she is grateful that principals at Barnett and Mt. Woodson schools welcomed Meadows and Franz and were gracious and helpful.

“Unfortunately, the transition at Ramona Elementary, with the principal at that site, did not go well at all,” said Braye-Romero.

Nelson spent Labor Day weekend setting up her new room at Ramona Elementary, “only to come in on Tuesday (Sept. 6) and have two teachers state...that they didn’t appreciate that this was the room she was placed in,” said Braye-Romero. While Nelson wasn’t forced to move again she “was given the indication that, if she didn’t, it would probably be a very uncomfortable year for her if she were to remain in the room she was at. She was offered the opportunity to move one more time into another building that was 300 square feet smaller than the building she was in.”

Nelson “graciously decided that moving would be the best thing to do,” continued Braye-Romero. “This was not a gracious move. This was not an accepting move. The teachers at Ramona Elementary are disappointed. The majority of the teachers are very disappointed at the way the principal handled the situation. I am very disappointed.”

Nelson is retiring at the end of the school year, said Braye-Romero, adding that Nelson established MVA. “She is now not closing (her career at) the school she started...But she did it for the program.”

Braye-Romero concluded with, “It is painful and it’s uncomfortable and, although she smiles through it all, I think that it’s important that you, as the people that run the district and make decisions, understand that that can happen in the district...and I think it needs to be addressed.”

Michelle Snyder, saying she represented MVA parents, expressed concern about Nelson’s transfer and wondered “will this happen again?”

“I along with other parents would like to know why the district was so ill-prepared in planning for this fall,” she said.

MVA teachers are unique and cannot be replaced by just anyone with a credential, Snyder said. “These teachers have a close relationship not only with their students but with the parents. They supervise and help facilitate home and independent learning. These teachers are professional, creative and pride themselves in thinking outside the box.”

Nicole Landers, also an MVA parent, said she thinks other options should have been considered rather than having Nelson’s subjects added to another teacher’s workload. “This was done at the last minute, although she’s doing the best she can do with that...but these aren’t her areas of expertise, so she’s going to have to scramble at the last minute to try and make all this work and have the children not suffer.”

Parent Heather Pedersen, with a child in her arms, sobbed, saying, “if we had had just a little more time for our children not to be subjected to an empty classroom or as parents be subjected to the horror that a first-grader has about his teacher may be there, may not be there.”

The school board generally does not comment after public comments on topics not on the meeting’s agenda. During Board Reports at the end of the Sept. 15 meeting, board member Bob Stoody said that he understands “the pain that we heard earlier shared” but believes district management, the current board and recent boards dealt with the national and statewide economic upheaval in such a way that “people are just now realizing that there is a problem” because they weren’t personally affected.

“We’ve been able to protect, unlike many districts, and so what I heard earlier, you need to take as a compliment. You also need to hear the pain...but realize that it’s been years that other districts, businesses up and down, government agencies are being turned inside out.”

“I see change as an opportunity to do better,” said Dohm, a high school teacher in Poway who has 40 students in a class. “That’s the norm....The kids brought laptops in, we just made it work and the kids are all engaged and I’ve done some of the most creative teaching that I ever have.”

After the meeting, Anne Staffieri, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said that the class sizes at Ramona Community School were significantly lower than those at other schools, resulting in the transfers.

“The reality is, when we find out about a discrepancy in class sizes, it always is at the beginning of the year and we want to deal with it quickly,” so students don’t bond with one teacher and then have to bond with another, said Staffieri.

   
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