February 3, 2020
This article is the second part of a two-part series centered on the effect of declining student enrollment at Oakmont.
Click here for the first article, published December 17.
(‘Redrawing the lines,’ C. Medrano)
Michelle Mahoney graduated from Oakmont High School in 1995. But when Mahoney looks upon her alma mater, she is not only an alumna – she’s the assistant principal. And over the next three years, she’ll bear witness to a projected drop from 2150 students to 1349. She will see coworkers lose their positions and students lose class offerings as West Park High School phases into the district.
“It is a really emotional time,” Mahoney said. “People put their feet down really firmly a lot of times at the school because it becomes their home. It’s a real emotional time for a lot of our teachers because they’re going to say goodbye to some of their friends that they’ve been with for years.”
But this “emotional time” caused by massive enrollment fluctuations is not new to the Oakmont community. According to David Kaitz, office manager for demographer firm Davis Demographics, it is often times difficult to predict population trends in suburban areas because of the constant influx of new residential developments.
When residential areas are established, younger families tend to move into these homes. To accommodate for the increase in student population across all levels of academia, school districts will build sites in these new residential areas and those young families would send their kids through the K-12 system closest to them.
But in RJUHSD, sending students to the school closest to them would lead to an uneven distribution of students. A smaller population means the absence of employment and elective opportunities.
For Oakmont’s attendance zone, slow household turnovers mean that younger families are not moving into the area to generate more students.
Beginning with its establishment in 1966, Oakmont’s population climbed as it took in students coming from East Roseville. But farther east in Granite Bay, the incline of residential areas led to the demand for a closer school. Now, GBHS retains more than half of Oakmont’s original attendance zone east of I-80. When GBHS opened in 1996, Oakmont lost 600 students the following year.
When Antelope High School opened in 2008, Oakmont dropped another 405.
Oakmont history teacher John Welch has taught there for 25 years and believes significant drops in student enrollment have negatively impacted public perception of the school. According to Welch, Oakmont lost about half its faculty after Granite Bay’s opening.
“With that, this sort of narrative began to be created which was that all the cool, hardworking, interesting teachers were the ones that wanted to go to the new schools,” Welch said. “It was already the beginning of the feeling that Oakmont was getting left behind.”
According to Mahoney, Oakmont’s subject departments will have to take course planning “year by year” because the demand for certain classes or electives will decrease as Oakmont’s student population continues to fall. For students, this means the loss of elective opportunities
Farther south in the San Juan Unified School District, low enrollment led to the closing of La Sierra High School in 1984. La Sierra, El Camino and Mira Loma High Schools were all within three miles of each other. El Camino became a fundamental high school while Mira Loma adopted the International Baccalaureate program to attract more students in order to “stay alive,” said Welch.
Like Mira Loma, Oakmont adopted the IB curriculum the year Antelope opened.
“I have a feeling that similar things are going to happen to Oakmont. It will have to figure out a way to make itself viable with such small enrollment,” Welch said. “The smaller the school, the fewer programs are sustainable. I think generally school boards are not okay with the economic impact of running a school at half its capacity.”
RJUHSD plans to create an attendance boundary committee later this year in order to draft new attendance zones to alleviate overpopulation at West Park and ensure all RJUHSD schools have similar enrollment numbers.
The district expects these new boundaries to go into effect by the 2022-23 school year.
With an incline of housing developments in West Park, attendance boundaries shifted so as to send students living in West Roseville to Oakmont in order to stabilize its population. Now, the district projects the loss of nearly 800 students from Oakmont’s population in the next three years as West Park High School absorbs Oakmont’s western attendance boundaries.
As a result, RJUHSD executive director of student engagement John Becker projects at least 15 teachers will have to leave Oakmont. These teachers will be relocated to various schools around the district.
“You make friends with your colleagues and you get used to seeing them every school day,” Welch said. “That part was difficult.”
Each year, teachers around the district are required to complete an intent to return form to declare whether they want to remain at their current schools, transfer or retire. Administrators will evaluate which and how many teachers showed a desire to transfer to West Park and begin the hiring process. According to Becker, about 100 teachers around RJUHSD demonstrated interest in transferring to West Park.
As vacancies arise throughout the district, administrators will turn from voluntary transfers to involuntary transfers. This puts newer teachers at risk of being transferred to another site.If a school employs more teachers in a specific subject than needed for their enrollment, the teacher that has been at the school for the shortest period of time would be asked to move.
“In education you want to say that you’re hired at the school site,” Mahoney said. “But we all know when we get hired that you’re hired within a district.”
Administrators project about 30 new teaching positions at West Park that will open to any teacher in the district. If a teacher from a site requests a transfer to West Park, the vacancy at the original school would open up to another teacher that might have to transfer involuntarily.
“There’s still that emotional connection,” Becker said. “But once the dust settles everybody finds a home and things kind of get back to business as usual.”