News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Unpacking school enrollment numbers

The first week of school is history, and Superintendent Curt Scholl said on opening day, “So far, it’s all looking good. No big glitches to report, only the usual little ones that we have worked out.”

He is still wary of possible COVID-driven changes that could turn the picture around, but he sounds generally optimistic.

His office provided The Nugget with the initial enrollment report. SSD#6 ended the 2020-2021 scholastic year with 1,155 students K-12. They are starting the 2021-2022 year with 1,146 enrolled. They know that the number will change, as it does every year, with students moving into or out of the District.

The elementary school is up nine students year-over-year. Middle school enrollment is down 13 and the high school will have five fewer than the year that just concluded. Meanwhile, the population of the District, led by the City of Sisters, has grown considerably the last year with roughly 110 new homes in town averaging 2.37 occupants, per available data.

Did none of those new homes include school-age children? And what about the sheer number of existing home sales that transacted, another roughly 200? Realtors tell us that a fair number of younger families particularly from Portland and Seattle are making Sisters home. It would seem then that SSD#6 would be seeing higher numbers.

One explanation is the number of homeschooled children.

“I’m recalling that the number is around 50 to 60,” Scholl said, adding that, “precise numbers are hard to come by.”

Nationwide, home schooling had an enormous surge in “enrollment” last year, by many estimates doubling from approximately 2.5 million to 5 million, 11 percent of all families choosing this method.

The Nugget asked Paul Andrews, superintendent of High Desert Education Service District, who facilitates homeschool registration and testing in Deschutes and Crook counties as prescribed by Oregon law.

He responded, “In 2017-2018 we had 180 new registrations. For 2019-2020 there were 131 new and for 2020-2021 we saw 909.”

Numbers for 2018-2019 were lost in a computer failure.

Like Scholl, Andrews attributes the sharp increase to parents’ reactions to distance learning.

“Anecdotally, most of those parents tell us they will return to public schooling as COVID measures stabilize,” he said.

Thus far for 2021/2022 Andrews’ organization reports about 100 new registrations. The number typically grows in the first month or two. Those are new students on top of the existing number being schooled at home.

Both Scholl and Andrews cite the growth in charter school enrollment. Bend International School serves 213 K-8 students. Redmond Proficiency Academy has 882 students enrolled in grades 6 though 12. Desert Sky Montessori, also in Bend, reports 101 students K-3.

These public charter schools have an average math proficiency score of 49 percent vs. the statewide average of charter schools’ 37 percent, and reading proficiency of 65 percent versus their statewide peers, 56 percent. Deschutes charter schools are in the top 10 percent of Oregon charter schools.

For reasons of privacy, none of the three schools would give The Nugget information of how many, if any, children from Sisters were enrolled in their programs. The allure of better reported outcomes is obviously attractive to some parents; however, Sisters schools compare favorably to the charter alternatives to say nothing of the drivetime to these options.

The private Wellspring School, affiliated with Wellhouse Church, has 11 kindergartners enrolled currently.

It would seem that home schooling continues to have a growing share of the Sisters K-12 school market, even if temporarily. A further inference is that Sisters’ population gains continue to be among retirees and empty-nesters.

In other SSD news, the $33.8 million in bonds were sold within hours of hitting the market and at a rollover rate of approximately 1.02 per thousand, which Scholl found favorable for the Moody’s A1 rated bonds.


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