School district ponders options for high schools
While June 20 marked the last day of school for West Linn-Wilsonville students, it signaled the start of the busy season for the school district's operations department.
The district will spend the next two months finishing construction projects ahead of the 2017-18 school year, highlighted by Meridian Creek Middle School and Sunset Primary, but is also focused on planning for the future.
The district's Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) began that process Wednesday, June 21, when it met to review its practices and prepare its strategy for evaluating future high school needs. Operations Director Tim Woodley kicked things off with a review of Long-Range Plan's purpose, highlighting the district's demographics methodology and how it will help them when considering high school options in the coming year.
The district has utilized Davis Demographics and Planning for the past several years, a consulting company that specializes in projecting enrollment for school districts across the West Coast. The work of Davis Demographics (DDC) helps West Linn-Wilsonville plot where students currently live and predict where growth is expected in coming years. Woodley shared with the group five factors that go in Davis Demographics' projections, noting that there is some variability specific to WL-WV that can make predictions tricky.
He said DDC projects each school year's enrollment by first graduating the 12th grade and moving all other groups up. The company then gathers residential development information by contacting city and county planners in West Linn and Wilsonville as well as individual developers to get a handle on where new housing is expected. DDC also calculates student yield factors for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 — linking geography and school boundaries with student data through geocoding — which shows the average number of students produced by single-family detached homes and multi-family units. DDC then estimates the incoming kindergarten class by gathering live birth counts from the district's main three zip codes. But the final piece of DDC's methodology, mobility, is one Woodley said has proven difficult for the district to predict.
"Mobility factor is kind of where our district is an anomaly. It refers to the in-out migration of students from existing housing," Woodley said. "We have a high mobility rate, and what (Davis Demographics) says when I ask them about it is that people want to live in our district. When grandma and grandpa move out, those houses are being filled with families with kids. ... That's where that term 'destination school district' comes from. People buy homes in our district to go to our schools."
Woodley added that DDC has been fairly accurate at predicting West Linn-Wilsonville's mobility factor in recent years, but that it's an inexact science that is partially to blame for increased enrollment, at the high school level in particular. West Linn High School reported enrollment of 1,805 in 2016-17 — which is right at the school's building capacity but is still within its educational capacity. Woodley stressed the importance of distinguishing the difference between building and educational capacity when planning for future high school options.
"If you take an entire building, every classroom — and for primary the architectural number is 25 — the building capacity is every classroom multiplied by 25. It's that simple. But that's different than educational capacity," Woodley said. "For calculating educational capacity you think about schools in terms of teaching stations. A teaching station could be a gym, for instance. Would you say that's 25 kids like a classroom? Probably not. Maybe you decide that number is 40 or 50. Or a band room, music room or art room.
"So your educational capacity can change depending on how you schedule and decisions you make. I think it's worth a discussion over time. I think there is some reconfiguration that could take place."
Woodley added that there is a need for additional high school space sooner than later at the high school level, according to Davis Demographics' projections and information gleaned from the recent middle school boundary process. He said that because there's little room to add classroom space at a West Linn High site that is constrained by geography, the time is now to prepare.
Superintendent Kathy Ludwig first expressed interest in creating a task force to review high school options in the spring, and brought forth a tentative schedule to the LRPC June 21. Working alongside the Long-Range Planning Committee, Ludwig said the task force will allow the district a chance to think about creative alternatives to a comprehensive high school while considering the future of secondary education.
"The large part of the work is actually generating the needs, challenges, opportunities, and the exciting part is that this isn't just about another space, but it's an opportunity to figure out what kids need in high school learning today, and what they're going to need tomorrow," Ludwig said. "Are there changes that are needed to our current model, and if so this is an opportunity to be innovative to really look at what the trends are and what our kids are asking for."
Ludwig said she hopes to establish a task force before the end of September — including at least one LRPC member and a collection of stakeholders from throughout the district and community — and begin a high school study in October. She said the goal would be to complete the analysis and have a recommendation by the end of May, but added that it's a fluid situation that will likely require more time. The district will reach out to prospective task force members and craft guiding questions for the study in the meantime.
"This is about figuring out what the ask is out there from our students and families, and doing some reinventing, reimagining or strengthening all of our high school programs," Ludwig said.