Falling enrollment triggers study of 8 CUSD schools - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Falling enrollment triggers study of 8 CUSD schools

August 28th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Falling enrollment triggers study of 8 CUSD schools

By Ken Sain
STSN Managing Editor

Chandler Unified School District’s intense growth spurt is ending and it faces a future of declining enrollment. 

The governing board heard what the district is doing to prepare for that future at its Aug. 10 meeting.

About an hour was dedicated to a space utilization study, where district officials are bringing together a committee to focus on what to do with eight elementary schools when enrollment begins to drop.

The eight schools are Bologna, Hull, Frye, Galveston, Navarrete, San Marcos, Sanborn and Shumway Leadership Academy. All eight schools are significantly below capacity. 

Only Shumway, Sanborn, and Frye are at more than 50% capacity. The other five are at half capacity or below, with Galveston having the most space at 42% capacity.

Districts use the 100-day mark because enrollment fluctuates throughout the year, so it’s a way to compare what is consistent.

Shumway is at 67% capacity, the most of any of the eight schools.

The board was told last spring that its demographics were changing. Homes are more expensive and younger families cannot afford to live here. The city’s population is getting older and there are fewer children who will need to attend school.

Chandler is not the only district facing that problem, as both Kyrene and Tempe Union school districts last year were told basically the same thing by a demographer.

The decline in CUSD has already started at the earliest grades. 

Hull Elementary had 721 students at the 100th day of the 2016-2017 school year. Last year, at the 100-day mark it had 538. District officials project the number will be 448 for the 2030-2031 school year.

“Over the last two years, our population of students under … five years of age has steadily declined from 8.7% in 2000, all the way down to 6.5% in 2020,” said Leo Schlueter, CUSD executive director of elementary education. 

“We know that our district’s enrollment is projected to decrease by approximately 270 students per year without strongest enrollment declines happening between ’24-’25 and ’27-’28,” he said.

Schlueter said this is not the first time the district has confronted declining enrollment at specific schools and found different ways to utilize that space. 

Goodman Elementary had 424 students in 2007 and has 663 this year. The key to turning it around, was rebranding the school – which opened in 1988–  as Chandler Traditional Academy-Goodman in 2006.

There have been other transitions. Erie became Arizona College Prep Erie. Knox became Knox Gifted Academy. CTA-Liberty added a dual language immersion program for Spanish. Humphrey became CTA-Humphrey and Hartford Sylvia Encinas added TOP (Talent+Opportunity=Promise) programming. 

Andersen is in the process of becoming the district’s first elementary school to be International Baccalaureate certified. 

IB is a rigorous  program that results in personal and academic development and can lead to a globally recognized diploma.

In each of those cases, schools with declining enrollment began to increase again.

“We wouldn’t have the support of kids that qualify,” Superintendent Frank Narducci said of the possibility of making all eight schools gifted academies, explaining that the district has about 1,500  qualified gifted students.

Narducci said they could probably find enough students who are currently outside of the District to support another gifted academy. He also suggested a possible performing arts academy, which he said has scored high in previous community surveys.

The district could ALSO expand the number of dual language immersion programs. Currently, the CUSD offers Spanish and Chinese Mandarin. 

It will be the committee’s job to decide what to do with those eight schools, how best to utilize the space.

The committee will comprise five people from each of the eight schools, including the principal, two teachers or staff and two parents.

The plan is to have them meet two or three times before November. Then they would present their recommendations to the governing board at its first meeting in November.

Narducci said it is possible the committee may decide a school could be repurposed for other uses than students attending classes.

“That may be but that’s going to come from the committee,” he said. “So whether that’s the best use of that building or what’s best for that community?”

Board member Lindsay Love asked if they are making sure the members of the committee look like the community they represent.

“Are we cognizant of like, who’s showing up?” she said. “And what the demographic data is there?” 

Heather Anguiano, CUSD’s other executive director of elementary education, replied:

 “When we’ve worked with the principals and asked them to identify their site representatives, we had asked him to be cognizant of that and pick representatives that really were going to represent their community and represent both sides.”