Students return to school Wednesday for the first day of classes at most Tuolumne and Calaveras county schools.
Although most schools in the counties have seen student enrollment rates decline dramatically in the past 15 years, early enrollment figures seem to show student populations are stabilizing. The figures are tentative for the first couple weeks, as schools will have a percentage of students who enroll but never show up for school.
“The schools won’t know until they see the whites of (the students’) eyes if they’re actually in the class,” said Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva.
Sonora Union High School has an enrollment of 1,130 students, the same number enrolled at the beginning of the last school year, said Principal Todd Dearden.
The Sonora Union High School District’s alternative schools remain consistent, with about 80 students enrolled in Cassina High and 50 at Ted Bird High, according to Alternative Education Principal Roy Morlan.
Summerville Union High School District, the only district in Tuolumne County that started last Wednesday, has 727 students enrolled in Summerville High School and the Connections Academy program. Superintendent John Keiter said enrollment is slightly higher than this time last year but he expects to have more concrete numbers in about a week.
Bret Harte Union High School has 737 students enrolled, which is 37 more than it had at the end of June, according to district Superintendent Mike Chimente. He estimated that enrollment is down about 50 students from last year.
Summerville Elementary School District has about 350 students enrolled, which is about 10 students higher than the district ended with last school year, said Superintendent Leigh Shampain.
However, the district will adjust the number after school begins to include students who do not show up to classes.
Budget woes, program status
While enrollment figures seem to be holding steady, funding for programs has not.
Most districts are anticipating cuts to programs and staffing with state dollars coming in short for yet another consecutive year. A pair of propositions on the state November ballot, 30 and 38, could backfill $20 billion in cuts over the past several years, but schools this year are budgeting for worst-case scenarios.
Mother Lode schools in years past have doubly suffered as a result of enrollment declines. That impacts budget because most schools get state funding based on student enrollment and daily attendance.
Summerville Elementary will enter the school year with cuts to the music and counseling programs. Shampain said the district hopes to start an after-school band program.
Sonora Union High School District cut its adult-education program, which allowed adults to earn their high school diplomas.
“It was a great program and we were sad to see it be eliminated,” Morlan said.
He added that it could be restored in time for the spring semester.
Sonora High has reduced some class offerings this year but hasn’t eliminated any programs. The culinary arts program is in its inaugural year and the emergency first responder and wildland fire programs are in their second year, Dearden said. He anticipates the school’s new cosmetology building to be up and running within a month.
The school is also offering an advanced placement European history course and English remediation course for the second year.
A new biology teacher, history and special education teacher, culinary arts teacher, counselor and assistant principal have joined the staff this year, Dearden said.
Several other schools have been able to maintain their programs, including Bret Harte, Summerville High and Mark Twain.
Summerville High has added two remedial classes for English-Language Arts and math, and Bret Harte has added a statistics class.
Tips for student success
As they prepare for the school year, superintendents are stressing the importance of communication among students, parents and school staff.
Chimente said parents should not hesitate to ask the faculty questions and recommends that parents review progress reports with their children and set goals for quarter grades.
“Remember that it’s a partnership between the parent and the school,” he said.
Dearden’s advice for parents is to read through paperwork that teachers send home and to encourage their kids to participate in sports, clubs or other extracurricular activities.
Mark Twain Union School District Superintendent Julia Tidball advises parents to communicate with teachers regularly instead of waiting for conferences and to use Infinite Campus, a district-adopted student online information system that allows parents to check their children’s grades and contact teachers.
“The best thing you can do with your child is talk to them daily about what’s going on in school, what they’re learning and what they’re excited about,” she said. “The bottom line is to really show your child how important education is and will be for them in their lives.”