High enrollment raises questions
Around 850 ninth graders are predicted to attend Blair next year despite the preliminary estimation of 730 freshmen, said Academy Coordinator Susan Ragan.
The current eighth graders have been placed into their respective high schools, and Blair's numbers are expected to grow despite the opening of Northwood High School in the Downcounty Consortium (DCC). "Mr. Gainous is guessing we'll get 850 students overall," said Ragan. "If we didn't have Northwood coming on board [in the fall of this year], we'd have more students." (See placement of eighth graders for more information.) The impact on Blair's enrollment is limited, however, since Northwood will only add one grade each year with a cap of 400 ninth graders for fall 2004. After the academies are in place for a few years, Ragan said certain high schools may become more popular, allowing Blair's population to decrease overall. "We will see benefits gradually," she said.
Ragan stated that the original estimation of 730 freshmen did not include Magnet applicants who live outside the DCC. "We also get a lot of new students in the summer who move into the area," Ragan added. Most CAP applicants, however, live in the Blair community so are already included in the preliminary number. There are also students who applied to the IB at Richard Montgomery and may leave the DCC. All in all, Ragan is expecting the numbers to increase. "More will come in than go out," she said. However, Ragan added that there would not be as many students for the 2004-2005 school year as there were in September of 2003 when there were 909 freshmen.
Fifty-nine percent (1,257 students) of the 2,126 current eighth graders in the DCC selected their base school as their first choice high school. The 221 students who did not submit a choice form were automatically assigned to their home school.
Ron McClain, the parent of a ninth grade Blair student, began a listserv for those interested in discussing Connections, which is the new mandatory class for non-CAP and non-Magnet freshmen. Based on some ninth graders' experiences with this introductory DCC course, McClain is unsure of the impact the academy programs will have on students' academic futures. "I think the Connections course has been a very hard class to get off the ground, so it's hard to know what to expect with the DCC-driven academies initiative," he said.
One of the main fears about Connections has been that "there will be a loss of course options, which has been one of Blair's main attractions," said McClain. Students had to drop more desired courses in order to take the required academy class, and McClain wonders if it will become a widespread issue in the DCC. "Are people going to lose some options and will the trade off be worth it?" he asked. "A wide range of students is included in these programs. It's apparently a time for experimenting and not surprisingly some of us are uneasy [about the academies]."
Sara Lynch, who is the parent of an eighth grader in the DCC, also acknowledged that the new DCC programs are all similar to one another, which does not seem valuable for students who wish to explore other course options. "They are 95 percent the same thing. The academies exist mainly on paper, and the major choice in the programs is nearly the same, except in the last two years of high school where there's some room for electives," Lynch stated. She said she does not know "how real the academies are" and will not find out until the academies have been in place for several years. "Was [the introduction of the new programs] more an effort to create the appearance of all these choices when most kids will be exposed to the same ones?" Lynch asked.
The academy choices were "too complex for a lot of [parents] to absorb," added Lynch. While she is aware that the new DCC program is difficult to get started, she is not thoroughly confident in its effectiveness. "I'm cognizant of the challenges. I try to understand what the pressures are. On the one hand I understand [the administration] is experimenting, but," said Lynch, "I have some reservations. I don't think eighth graders should be expected to be channeled through career options." High school is a time for students "to get a good education, have social relationships, and be bonded to their school, not to choose careers," Lynch emphasized.
McClain is also unsure whether students will feel "better connected and more of a group" in the individual academies. He said that one of the beneficial aspects of small programs, like CAP and Magnet, is that students build strong relationships with their teachers and receive more academic support. "Is that going to happen in the academies or will the numbers be too high?" asked McClain.
One of the purposes of the DCC is it would help depopulate Blair, but Lynch echoes McClain's skepticism. She thinks that despite Blair's predicted freshmen enrollment of 850, the number may in fact increase. "Here's the cunundrum. [The administration] could potentially be underestimating Blair's population. I think there's going to be a surprise [in the fall of 2004]. Ms. Ragan's statistics might be a bit off," Lynch said. Instead, she thinks that by expanding eighth graders' choice to all five high schools in the DCC, more may choose Blair over their base school. "I don't see a decrease [in students] in the short or medium run unless people see the immediate advantage of going to their home school," said Lynch.
Another concern of parents like Lynch is that the DCC seems to break apart the neighborhood environment. "It's a community buster," she stated. "That social piece is important for a child's development. You would be less interested in [school] choice and more interested in keeping the community together." Instead, Lynch encourages students to attend their base school. "In making a choice about where our kids go, community matters and transportation matters," said Lynch. "Since kids have friends, community is a crucial part [of the decision]. It's not just about the academics."
Check out the DCC website for more information or read the Silver Chips article about the candidates running for the Board of Education to see their opinions of the DCC. For a Silver Chips article from October 2002 regarding plans and expectations at that point for the future of the academies, go here.
Allison Elvove. Allison Elvove was a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2004-2005 school year. She wrote more than 70 articles while on the staff and supervised 40 student journalists, editing articles on a daily basis. During her time as editor, Silver Chips Online won the … More »