Bond issue, boundary plan affect Wichita enrollment - for the better

For more than a decade, students at Cloud Elementary were the poster children for overcrowding at some Wichita schools.

This year, with the opening of Ortiz Elementary on Wichita’s north side, Cloud got its long-awaited elbow room.

“We’re able to do some things differently,” said principal Chris Wendt. “The whole flow of the day is a little smoother because we don’t have as many kids.”

Enrollment at the school, near 25th North and Arkansas, is down 170 students this year, from 863 to 693.

New enrollment figures released this week show several significant gains and declines in student head counts across the district.

Some of the changes, including Cloud’s, are the result of new schools that opened as part of the 2008 bond issue. Others are the result of new attendance boundaries or changes that limit student transfers from low-performing schools.

Last week’s head count – part of a statewide effort to determine funding levels – provided Wichita school leaders their first official look at how student populations have shifted under the boundary plan approved by the school board in March.

“Last spring it was projections,” said board president Lynn Rogers. “Now we have a snapshot. But we’ll have to take a look at the whole picture, the depth of the picture, to determine what’s there.

“At some point we’ll want to compare back to see what happened, where the line is and maybe what do we need to do in the future as far as adjustments.”

Overall, Wichita’s enrollment grew by 536 students this year, to 50,639.

A school-by-school breakdown shows that East High is still the city’s largest, with 2,278 students, down 30 from 2011. North High’s enrollment jumped by 67 students, to 2,042. Heights’ enrollment dropped by 157 students, to 1,392.

Among middle schools, Hadley, Coleman and Stucky saw the largest drops, down 169, 147 and 111, respectively.

Hadley’s decrease wasn’t because of boundaries, which didn’t change for the school. Rather, the district is phasing out a transfer option that once allowed students to attend Hadley instead of certain lower-performing Title 1 schools.

Continuing the option would likely have sent another 200 sixth-graders to the overcrowded school this fall, said principal Charles Wakefield. Built for about 700 students, the school near Central and West Street had 921 last year. This year’s enrollment is 752.

“Teachers describe our hallways as empty now,” Wakefield said. “There’s a lot less crowding, which makes our transitions flow much more smoothly.”

Tardies are down, Wakefield said. Students get more one-on-one help during “Books and Breakfast” tutoring sessions each morning. They no longer have to go outside and around the building to get to classes in the other wing.

Average class sizes dropped as well, Wakefield said, from more than 30 to around 24.

“We have great teachers and they do great things, but it’s nice to deal with what most people consider normal class sizes.”

At capacity

Other schools saw numbers increase more than expected.

OK Elementary, near 13th and West Street, grew by nearly 50 percent, from 241 to 358 students. Many of the students came from Bryant and Emerson elementaries, two of three schools the district shuttered to cut costs.

Dodge and Woodland elementaries each gained more than 100 students from boundary changes and closures. Similarly, the closing of Lincoln Elementary increased enrollment at Gardiner and Harry Street.

“I’d say we’re at capacity right now,” said Stacie Ricker, principal at OK.

The school’s counselor, social worker, psychologist and curriculum coach share one classroom as an office, she said. Ten buses – up from four last year – take up much of the parking lot, which makes morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups a challenge for parents.

“I’ve had people out from the district to look at it,” Rucker said. One option to loosen the traffic jam could be a “right turn only” from the parking lot onto West Street, she said.

“So far our parents have been really patient. They’ve made adjustments,” Ricker said. “They learned to get here early and found alternative places to park and walk.”

Shifts, decreases

Among Wichita elementaries, Cloud, Seltzer and Gammon saw the largest enrollment drops, which were prompted by shifts to new schools.

Most Cloud students went to Ortiz Elementary; Seltzer’s boundary shifted to populate Christa McAuliffe Academy, a new K-8; and some children from the former Gammon boundary now attend Isely Traditional Magnet in Bel Aire.

Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet lost 102 students. Mueller Aerospace and Engineering Magnet, which moved to the former Isely building, is down 100 students; most of those now attend Gordon Parks Academy because of new boundaries.

Much of the growth at schools in Wichita’s Midtown area has come hand-in-hand with the neighborhood’s evolution from predominantly white to multiracial with a large Hispanic population. In the past decade, the percentage of Hispanic students in Wichita schools has doubled – from 15.6 percent in the 2000-01 school year to more than 32 percent this year.

Ortiz Elementary, which opened last month at 33rd North and Arkansas, provided relief to Cloud Elementary, which for years had been more than 200 students above its ideal capacity.

This fall, two fourth-grade classes at Cloud moved from portable classrooms to the main building – and closer to restrooms. Pre-kindergarten classes moved to bigger rooms, and some storage-rooms-turned-offices are used for storage again, said Wendt, the principal.

“Our capacity is back where it needs to be,” he said. “So that’s been nice.”

Related stories from Wichita Eagle