Share of Richfield residents attending Richfield Schools drops

 

A graph shows the year-to-year ups and downs of the net impact of open enrollment on Richfield Schools. (Graphic courtesy Richfield Schools)
A graph shows the year-to-year ups and downs of the net impact of open enrollment on Richfield Schools. (Graphic courtesy Richfield Schools)

The Richfield School District has lost an increasing share of students to open enrollment in recent years, according to a student population report released last week.

Leaving out the district’s new Voluntary Pre-kindergarten programming for the sake of comparison, Richfield Schools enroll 4,381 students this year, representing a capture rate of 69 percent, according to the “Where We are in Enrollment” report presented to the Richfield School Board Feb. 6. That capture rate means 69 percent of students living in Richfield attend school in their de facto district.

Richfield Schools had a net loss of 52 students due to open enrollment, according this year’s student count; last year, the district saw a net gain of five students. The numbers for the net gain or loss to open enrollment are wildly inconsistent from year to year, Craig Holje, Richfield’s chief of human resources, noted.

The district’s capture rate has been consistently decreasing since 2012, when about 76 percent of school-age district residents attended Richfield Schools.

Superintendent Steven Unowsky, however, drew hope from more encouraging open enrollment numbers at the elementary level.

A chart shows which school district draw students from Richfield, and vice versa. (Chart courtesy Richfield Schools)
A chart shows which school district draw students from Richfield, and vice versa. (Chart courtesy Richfield Schools)

If that keeps up, “that entire trend will obviously flip and will continue on into the secondary and will continue on all the way into the high school,” Unowsky said.

As it stands now, Edina drew the most students away from Richfield, which saw 195 students cross the district’s western border this year. At the same time, Richfield draws 193 students from Minneapolis.

On a night when the school board also received a report from a consultant hired to audit the district’s communications and marketing programming, improvement in that area could help increase the capture rate as the public sees improvements in the district, Boardmember Crystal Brakke suggested.

“I think there is a shared perspective that we are getting stronger, that we are getting better as a district,” Brakke said, “and so I think hopefully as we strengthen our approach and actual skill at communicating how we are doing, we will see some of that reflected” in the
capture rate.

While the net enrollment in and out of the district is in constant flux, one steady trend from the past several years is the number of non-white students enrolled in the district. Going back to 2009, the earliest year detailed in the enrollment report, the percentage of students of color has increased every year, from about 65 percent in 2009 to about 73 percent this year.

Meanwhile, average class sizes across Richfield Schools are in the district’s target range, according to Holje. Elementary class sizes have held relatively steady in recent years, at about 24 students for the current school year.

Average class sizes at Richfield Middle School, at about 27, have reached their highest levels since at least 2007, the most recent year included in the enrollment report. The middle school has gone through programming changes the past two years and saw an unanticipated increase in enrollment this year, Holje noted.

Richfield High School’s average class size is about 29 students, also the highest since at least 2007. But according to studies by the Metro Educational Cooperative Unit, Richfield has typically had larger elementary class sizes compared to other suburban districts, and lower class sizes in the middle and high school, Unowsky said. In light of the new enrollment report, he said those figures are beginning to balance out.

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.