Parents want to restrict outside students
by BRIAN NADIG
The number of new Wildwood School students who live outside school’s attendance area could be as low as four, down from 17 last year, according to Wildwood principal Mary Beth Cunat.
More than 20 percent of the students enrolled at Wildwood, which is operating at 175 percent of capacity, are non-local children. The neighborhood magnet school, which has an International Baccalaureate Program curriculum, has a history of enrolling students from outside the attendance area, in part to fill vacant seats in classrooms in order to gain teaching positions and to help diversify the school.
However, a group of parents recently launched a petition drive that calls for a restricted enrollment policy which would prohibit enrolling new students who live outside the attendance area, including the siblings of existing students. Three of the four new non-local students enrolled for this fall are siblings of existing students.
Enrollment at Wildwood was 424 last year, and this fall’s enrollment should be around that number, Cunat said. Enrollment had been projected to be 439, but kindergarten enrollment may be about 30, which would be 10 fewer than originally projected for that grade, and the school eliminated one teaching position due to the revised in enrollment projection.
The decision to enroll fewer non-local students stems in part from the probability that it will be several years before Wildwood receives funding for an annex, Cunat said. Starting in 2014-15, Wildwood plans to stop accepting new out-of-area enrollees for classes that have 25 or more children.
Cunat has opposed a ban on non-local enrollment, but she has said that the space crunch at Wildwood could lead to a de facto restricted enrollment policy in some grades. "We’re doing what we always been doing, (but) I am making a commitment or paying attention to that a lot of local kids could come in," she said.
The Wildwood School Local School Council plans to discuss creating an advisory statement on enrollment at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the school. One LSC member has said that the council had been avoiding the issue.
Cunat said that she is concerned that the publicity about the school’s overcrowding, which has led to students being placed in small discussion groups in the hallways, may send the wrong message to parents who are deciding whether to send their child to the school. "Learning is going on, and it’s good learning," she said.
In a recent letter to parents, Cunat said, "I want you to know that the overcrowding message was designed specifically to push politicians and upper management for an annex. I firmly believe any representation of Wildwood as chaotic or unsafe is faulty and unfair. Busy and crowded, yes, but in a positive, energetic way. That is 21st Century learning, where students collaborate and discuss and plan and do projects together.
"Our external survey results (posted online) and our upward trending test scores provide evidence of a high-performing, high-functioning school. More important is the energy and joy from the students."
The school is undergoing an interior redesign that will convert storage and office areas and the library into instructional space, and there are plans to have no split-grade homerooms, Cunat said. Plans also are being made to implement individualized scheduling for upper-grade students, who will have move from room to room for each subject in effort to reduce class sizes, she said.
Part of the school’s redesign plan calls for students to eat in their classrooms instead of in the gymnasium, where a peanut-free table was set up. Due to the tight quarters in classrooms, the school may ban peanuts due to allergy concerns, Cunat said.