Choice, charters leave several PBC middle schools half empty

 

Dwindling enrollment at Odyssey Middle in Boynton Beach imperiled the school, and has now put it on a track to closure. But it isn’t the only school in the district that can’t fill even half its seats – and most of those schools are middle schools.

(See story on the school board meeting that is clearing path for Odyssey closure here. )

Why is that? 

One big reason: Parents of middle schoolers choose not to send them to their assigned schools and they make this choice more often than parents of elementary or high schools students, according to the district’s numbers.

Of 42,269  students in grades 6-8,  nearly one-third choose to attend a choice program at a school other than their home school or a charter school.

 

Here are three examples of how this plays out, with data supplied from the district’s boundaries department as of the February head count.

Carver Middle, Delray Beach

820 students attend the school built for 1,534

1,317 students live in the boundaries

175 of those attend charters; 448 attend another school in the district

113 come to Carver from outside the boundaries for reasons such as its magnet program or special education services

 

 

Congress Middle, Boynton Beach

Congress Middle

887 students attend the school built for 1,432

1,462 students live in its boundaries

428 of those attend charter schools; 328 attend another school in the district

159 students come to Congress from outside its boundaries

Crestwood Middle, Royal Palm Beach

750 students in a school build for 1,653

1,232 students live in its boundaries

229 students attend charter schools; 336 attend another school in the district.

 

The district is home to 33 middle schools. Others that are struggling to fill their desks: 

Bear Lakes Middle 49 percent of capacity

Carver 53 percent

Congress 62 percent

Crestwood 45 percent

John F. Kennedy 53 percent

Lake Shore Middle 47 percent

Odyssey 50 percent

Polo Park 59 percent

Roosevelt 64 percent

Are any middle schools full?

Ten are filled near to capacity (at least 95 percent)  and beyond, including: Bak MSOA, Boca Raton, Conniston, Don Estridge, Eagles Landing, Independence, Loggers Run, Omni and Western Pines.

What about high schools? 

All but two of the district’s 23 high schools are filled to at least 80 percent capacity – nine are beyond capacity.

 

 

 

 

Update: Last of fall school boundary changes OK’d

Update: Boundary changes approved. 

Original post: The school board will get its last crack at changing boundaries for next school year at its meeting Wednesday night.

So far, the board has already approved moves that should relieve crowding at its most over- filled elementary: Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton. Now the board will move to address the situation at Forest Hill High school – a school so packed that at least 24 teachers don’t have their own classrooms.

It will also tackle two middle school changes that at least for next year involve all of about three students – yes three, not a typo.

With that, boundaries will be set for the fall, leaving two district-wide matters looming:

What can be done about crowding at almost every other high school?

When open enrollment was announced, more than one parent griped to see that only three high schools – two of them in the Glades – had enough room to take students from outside their typical boundaries.

Nine of 23 high schools are filled beyond capacity, five more are at 95 percent capacity or beyond.

What does the district do about its emptying middle schools? 

Eight of the county’s 33 middle schools have at least one third of their seats empty, as calculated by the state. Six are closer to half full: Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Carver in Delray Beach, Crestwood in Royal Palm Beach, John F. Kennedy in Riviera Beach, Lake Shore in Belle Glade and Odyssey in Boynton Beach.

The district has made some moves to address these matters. Most recently some of these middle schools received grant money to beef up choice offerings and attract more students.

Avossa visits Forest Hill HS on first day. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a plan that worked for Forest Hill High which was losing students until it opened an International Baccalaureate program and several other magnets.   

This fall, the school built for just over 1,830 students, welcomed more than 2,400.

The relief proposed will transfer an estimated 182 students off the rolls and send them to Palm Beach Lakes High – a campus considerably closer to their neighborhood which sits north of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

Paired with that move is one that aligns where students in the same neighborhood go to middle school. Instead of attending Conniston Middle which feeds to Forest Hill, the handful of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in this northern reach will instead go to Roosevelt Middle, where their classmates all move on to Palm Beach Lakes High.

Unlike the shuffle negotiated in Boca Raton, these moves in the West Palm Beach area have gone widely unopposed.

Some board members and panelists on the advisory boundary committee have expressed concern that the parents in the neighborhoods concerned may be poor, and may not have the time or the means to come to the meetings or launch large objections if they had any.

The final proposed boundary change involves shifting middle school assignments for neighborhoods in the town of Westlake where no homes have yet been built.

 

Kindergarten ‘Round Ups’ have begun in PBC

The next school year doesn’t begin until Aug. 14, 2017, but for the parents of soon-to-be-kindergarteners it is time to get acquainted with your child’s school. ‘Tis the season of the “Kindergarten Round Ups” where your child can visit his or her school, meet teachers and the principal.

A handful of schools have already held their meet-and-greets, but the majority will host events in April and May.

Registration forms are on hand and

A school visit by Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa in 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

can be completed at the school. (More than 50 elementary schools offer choice programs open to students who apply through a district-wide lottery. The application deadline for those schools has passed.)

Aren’t sure which is your neighborhood school: Enter your address here.  

For the round up schedule, go here. 

 

Some insight into the pursuit of the ‘right’ elementary school for kindergarten from last year’s archives: 

The scramble by parents to get their children in the right school was once part of a conversation about college or maybe high school, but these days it’s just as likely to be about elementary school.

The internet is rife with stories of parents tackling kindergarten choice with the mentality of an NFL recruiter, reducing options to spreadsheets and calculating moves from their child’s first play group. There is no shortage, also, of advice to parents on these quests and even research to assure them this is indeed an important decision.

One Harvard study found academic performance in kindergarten was among several factors that correlated to future earnings. The resulting headline in the Christian Science Monitor: Why Kindergarten is key to Financial Success in Life.

Choice in Palm Beach County schools began in 1989 with three magnet programs intended to integrate predominantly black schools suffering from cases of white flight. Only one of those was an elementary: S.D. Spady, a Montessori school in Delray Beach.

By 2005, the choices had grown to 13 elementary schools. And by this fall, that number hit 33 schools with more than 2,400 students vying for some 800-plus seats.

For the full story, read here. 

Move to relieve crowding in Boca elementaries up for final vote

The school district’s plan to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton is up for a second and final school board vote Wednesday at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 3300 Forest Hill Boulevard.

To recap:

After months of meetings and a last minute tweak from board members, it looks like crowding at the district’s most crowded school will be dispelled by shuffling more than 300 students at six elementaries in the region. Board members did acquiesce to the Casa Bella neighborhood’s concerns about being moved out of Calusa. That plan is now up for final approval.

Boundary changes up for board approval.
Boundary changes up for board approval.

calusa-key

In other boundary news

The board will have a workshop before the meeting to discuss other upcoming boundary changes that will not be voted upon until March.

Those proposals include alterations to the boundaries for Forest Hill High and nearby Conniston Middle in West Palm Beach, and a shift in middle school  boundaries in the new community of Westlake involving students who would move into the community once it is built. The shift sends the students to Osceola Creek Middle rather than Western Pines Middle.

Boca boundary changes OK’d, one neighborhood gets a pass

Board ruled Casa Bella, a neighborhood in 296-C, will not have to move. Second vote comes next month.
Board ruled Casa Bella, a neighborhood in 296-C, will not have to move. Second vote comes next month.

Plans to carve out more room at Calusa Elementary by changing boundaries to that school and five others in the Boca Raton region moved forward Wednesday night with one significant change: the Casa Bella neighborhood can to stay put.

The boundary changes, which passed on a 6-1 vote with Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson dissenting, will require a second vote of the Palm Beach County School Board on Feb. 22 before they become official. Those changes still would shuffle more than 300 students at six schools in order to trim the rolls at Calusa, the most crowded elementary in the district.

The parents of Casa Bella successfully convinced a majority of the board that moving them would create a burdensome commute for those living in the neighborhood with only one exit inconveniently located in the opposite direction from their would-be assignment at Whispering Pines Elementary.

They also raised concerns about feeder patterns that would come into play as children moved into middle schools without many of their elementary school peers.

How crowded is it? 

Calusa was built for 836 students and can house slightly more thanks to 14 portable classrooms. But this fall, enrollment hit 1,204.

The principal has carved out additional classrooms from computer labs, kindergarten kitchen space and administrative offices. Art and music teachers don’t have their own rooms.

Board members Frank Barbieri and Karen Brill, who represent parents in the area, championed the exception noting that the number of students in the neighborhood that would stay was not large.

Morikami alternative

They also noted that the  proposal also gives the Casa Bella neighborhood priority in the choice program lottery for Morikami Elementary, which may mean fewer students would be at Calusa – though that’s not a guarantee. Last year, eight children from the neighborhood enrolled at the Delray Beach International Baccalaureate primary years school. This year, that number grew to 24, but those students aren’t obligated to choose Morikami if they’re still permitted to attend Calusa.

Potential boundary jumpers

For months parents have also complained of boundary jumpers adding to the crowding at Calusa. In a culling of enrollment, staff has now flagged 97 questionable addresses, said Jason Link, the district’s boundaries expert.

Past experience indicate that after those parents are interviewed and further scrutiny to their reasons for their enrollment, about two-thirds will have legitimate reason to stay and the remaining third – or about 30 students – would have to leave.

Not everyone was on board with the exception for Casa Bella. 

Board member Erica Whitfield and Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson voted against the exception.

“I’m concerned about making changes for 296-c (Casa Bella’s attendance zone). I feel if they’re concerned about the transit times that they could go to Orchard View,” said Whitfield, who phoned in her comments while she’s recovering from a back injury.

In the various options considered by the advisory boundary committee, those that sent Boca Raton students to Delray Beach schools proved the most contentious and unpopular with parents who attended the committee’s meetings by the dozens.

The repeated concerns that Boca students would be forced to attend Delray concerns was a particular concern to several boundary committee members and also to Robinson.

The district is a countywide school district that does not recognize city boundaries and should not make them a consideration, Robinson said. She noted that for example, there is no high school in Riviera Beach so all of those teens must leave their home town to attend school.

“If we’re going to say that’s a consideration for us, I want to be clear it needs to be a consideration for everybody,” Robinson said.

“Boundary changes are always very difficult. I hope we have the same concern and compassion for the children whose adults in their lives don’t have the wherewithal to write the letter,” Robinson said.

Board member Marcia Andrews asked that staff look into any safety concerns, after all if there are such issues the district must tend to the needs of the students already there.

 

School board to vote on Boca boundary changes for hundreds of students

Calusa boundary proposal aka the C-1 Hybrid.
Calusa boundary proposal aka the C-1 Hybrid.

The Palm Beach County School Board will take its first look at plans to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary School in Boca Raton when it meets for a workshop at 4 p.m. Wednesday at district headquarters.

The proposal chips away at Calusa’s enrollment of 1,204, by moving 205 students in more than 60 neighborhoods to other schools. In order to make room at those schools, about 167 other students would also have to change schools.

If approved, the proposal would still require a second vote, likely toward the end of February, said the district’s boundary expert Jason Link.

In all, district officials estimate 372 students would be shuffling in the first year in moves that involve six elementary schools: Calusa, Addison Mizner, Boca Raton, J.C. Mitchell, Sunrise Park and Whispering Pines.

The changes permit children in grades 4 and any of their younger siblings in kindergarten through grade three already at a school would be allowed to stay at their school.

In order to make the move palatable for families of Calusa’s northernmost students who would be rezoned to Whispering Pines, Superintendent Robert Avossa is also recommending their neighborhoods be added to the list of those with priority should they want to attend the nearby magnet school: Morikami Park in Delray Beach. The neighborhoods had not been built when the school opened and priorities were assigned, according to the meeting materials.

The proposal was vetted at multiple advisory boundary committee meetings and public hearings since school began in August. Four committee members voted against the proposal because they were concerned it did not give the school, built for 836 students, enough relief.