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February 5, 2013
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Cottage Hill fifth-graders may move to Magnolia school

Cottage Hill and Magnolia schools will consider a potential move of Cottage Hill fifth-graders into the middle school in response to a recent increase in kindergarten enrollment numbers.

Parents are encouraged to attend meetings set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, on the topic.

“We’re actually just meeting with fourth-grade parents just to talk with them and certainly get their input,” said Shar Johns, Cottage Hill principal. “And we’re not even sure if this is something we may need to do. We’re just in the process of studying and we want to involve our stakeholders.”

The consideration for a move is directly related to kindergarten enrollment numbers, said Britta Skavdahl, Pleasant Ridge School District superintendent.

“We’ve had an uptick in elementary enrollment overall and particularly in kindergarten,” Skavdahl said. “The search for space doesn’t make sense when there are empty classrooms at Magnolia.”

The number of students enrolled in Cottage Hill increased from 432 to 555 from 2009-10 to 2010-11, according to enrollment numbers from the California Department of Education. Part of this can be attributed to the closure of Pleasant Ridge School in 2010, which forced 185 students into Cottage Hill and Alta Sierra schools.

The question remains as to whether or not the increased number of kindergartners is an anomaly or a pattern.

“Last year we had an increase over what we expected over what the past trend has been over recent years,” said Magnolia Principal Gene Morgan. “But we’re trying to figure out if that is a bubble or a trend and early kindergarten roundup had inconclusive results.”

Due to changes in the economic landscape in education, consolidation of schools and changes may have to take place, Morgan said.

“It’s like everyone wants their district to be more efficient, but not if it changes what they do,” Morgan said. “But sometimes you have to ask people to look at the big picture, what’s good for the school and how to make those decisions, and many are driven by economics.”

Some parents have expressed concern that middle school is too mature of a crowd for their 10-year-old fifth graders.

“I think it’s a terrible decision,” said fourth-grade parent Nikki Craven. “I don’t think mixing 9 and 14-year-olds is such a good idea on one campus.”

Another parent echoed that sentiment, fearing that her daughter will have less of her needs met if moved to Magnolia.

“My daughter has a peanut allergy,” said Hilary Fitch, parent of a fourth-grader. “In Cottage Hill, I was able to come out and make sure she was safe and the teachers and staff were willing to work with me, but I worry about when she goes up to Magnolia and the office always seems so hectic and she’s going to get lost in the shuffle of kids.”

One of the parental concerns involved suspension rates, as the middle school percentage of suspension and expulsion rates is much higher than in elementary schools, Craven said.

“We’ve done some research and generally junior high has higher suspension and expulsion rates due to those ages,” Craven said. “I feel we need to keep our kids down at the elementary as long as possible.”

The administrative response has been that the range of ages is already present in the current school set-up.

“Some parents are sort of scared of myths of negative portrayals of middle school,” Morgan said. “I understand that, but now they have a six-year spread at Cottage Hill. And there’s actually been a growing trend to go back to K-8 schools again.”

To alleviate some of the challenge for younger students, the lower grades would be grouped together, Skavdahl said.

“I know the site administrators have developed a plan that if we needed to move forward, much like sixth-graders are now, they are virtually isolated from seventh and eighth grade,” Skavdahl said. “In essence it would be the same as having current fourth- and fifth-graders housed together.”

The earliest a decision to move forward would be made is in April, Skavdahl said.

“We are nowhere near making that decision,” Skavdahl said. “But if we continue to see increased enrollment, it’s a good dialogue.”

Parents are encouraged to attend the upcoming meetings while the schools gain input about potential changes.

“We understand that there are pros and cons, and will be mindful of parent concerns,” Skavdahl said. “So we are taking our time, studying, watching our numbers, starting to engage in dialogue, and that’s really all we can do at this point.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Feb 6, 2013 11:01AM Published Feb 11, 2013 01:29PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.