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Oakmont braces for population shift

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(SAM MAILEY/EYEOFTHETIGER)

(SAM MAILEY/EYEOFTHETIGER)

(SAM MAILEY/EYEOFTHETIGER)

MARC CHAPPELLE

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Oakmont High School programs are preparing for a smaller student body after the sixth high school opens in West Roseville as early as the 2020-21 school year.

The campus population currently stands at just under 1,900 students. However, enrollment may climb to nearly 2,400 students by the 2019-20 school year before dropping to fewer than 1,600 student the following year, according to the most recent district projections.

OHS’ attendance boundary includes areas in the Westpark and Fiddyment Farms neighborhoods. This area of residential growth currently contributes hundreds of students to OHS’ campus, but will make up the attendance boundary of the future sixth high school.

In the short term, OHS plans to roll out at as many as 10 new portable classrooms to accommodate a larger number of students, with six slated for the upcoming school year.

In the long term, OHS is training Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate teachers in multiple areas to increase flexibility within a tightened master schedule and plans to rely on the strength of its academic offerings to attract students to the campus after the opening of the sixth high school.

“Making sure that we have as many teachers on campus trained to teach the various classes that we hope to continue and maintain once the sixth high school opens is important, because we will lose staff,” OHS IB coordinator Jolie Geluk said. “Probably every school in the district will lose some staff to the new school. So we need to make sure we have replacements available should that happen.”
While decreased enrollment can put a strain on elective and athletic programs, OHS principal Robert Hasty said there are some inherent benefits to a smaller student population.

“From a facilities standpoint, life becomes much easier, because you’re not as congested with as many kids on a campus that’s designed for sixteen-hundred to eighteen-hundred kids,” Hasty said. “It’s a lot easier for a staff to get to know the student body when it’s a number that’s in the fifteen to eighteen hundred realm than it is at a twenty-four hundred realm, because it’s just so many kids.”

Hasty said OHS plans to maintain the vibrancy of the campus after the sixth high school opens by bolstering the reputation of its programs, including the Health Careers Academy and the International Baccalaureate program.

This school year, 95 seniors participate and 145 rising juniors will participate in the IB diploma or certificate programs, according to Geluk. She expects this trend to continue. Geluk cites an “inclusive, not exclusive” environment at OHS, as well as feeder programs at Sargeant Elementary School and Eich Middle School that may offset some of the projected drop in overall student enrollment.

“We really have a K through 12 IB program in our district, which makes it one of the few, if not the only K through 12 IB program in Sacramento, so that is a big draw as well,” Geluk said. “That’s significant because now parents, from kindergarten onwards, can have their kids exposed to a similar style of teaching and learning if IB is what’s appropriate for them or what they want. And hopefully, we’d like to become a magnet school for IB in the area.”

In anticipation of an overall decrease in student enrollment, the Sac-Joaquin Section will move OHS out of the Division II Capital Valley Conference and into the Division III Tri-County Conference in the 2018-19 school year.

“It really makes more sense to be in a league where we’re more competitive,” Hasty said. “So quite honestly, it’s kind of a blessing in the fact that the section is already realizing ‘hey, we know what’s gonna happen there, let’s make sure we take care of kids and that they’ve got the opportunity to compete and that the competitive equity is there.’”

OHS athletic director Dean Perkins said sports like football, track and wrestling are “where you really need numbers.” OHS has experience weathering quickly-changing student populations, according to Perkins.

“Our population has gone up and down quite frequently the last twenty years,” Perkins said. “If they needed a school to be larger, it was ours. If they needed a school to be minor, it was ours. As it turns out, the lower we are, we probably do a little worse in most sports, but it’s not that much different than when we’re very large. Sports like softball, baseball, golf, basketball, we’ve had great teams when there were few people in the school, sometimes not so good teams when there were a lot of people in the school.”

OHS performing arts department coordinator and dance teacher Cami Bettencourt will invest in what the dance program has already built to secure it going forward. In the near future, the program faces growing numbers without a dedicated dance facility, instead practicing in and around the cafeteria while finding “creative ways of sharing the space and facilities” it has.

“We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing now, and just really focus on keeping that environment fun and safe and nurturing,” Bettencourt said. “I’m obviously crossing my fingers that when the sixth high school does open up we don’t lose numbers, but I’m pretty confident in my ability as a teacher and as a creator. I think we’ll be okay, I’m not saying we’re safe by any means, but my counterpart and I take pride and do a lot of extra planning over the summer to make sure that we are constantly looking at new ideas for curriculum and new ways for students to stay engaged and active and involved.”

At a staffing level, OHS anticipates both voluntary and involuntary transfers of its faculty members to primarily the sixth high school, as well as other sites in the district.

“We won’t know anything until we get to that point, but what we’ve all talked about and agreed upon here is that we’re not gonna do the talking-in-isolation-in-our-silos,” Hasty said. “It’s been a really good process for us to kind of talk about ‘Hey, let’s not make some of those mistakes where people are concerned that they’re going or think they’re going if they have no chance of going. And let’s be really honest with those folks
who may have that opportunity of, ‘yeah, you might be in line to head that way.’”

Although OHS may see the most dramatic shifts in student enrollment over the next seven years, other campuses may witness a gradual decrease in the amount of students enrolling from their attendance boundaries. Granite Bay High School’s attendance boundary may yield roughly 150 fewer students by the 2023-24 school year, according to district projections.
GBHS principal Jennifer Leighton’s strategy is similar to OHS’ – ensure the strength of campus programs attracts student enrollment. Leighton hopes to balance out an emphasis on STEM and diploma-only
candidates within the IB program, and hopes it will “allow kids to dabble in it” more.

“I don’t have any concerns. I think if you combine the academic and the athletics and the arts together, you’ll find that we excel in all three areas,” Leighton said. “And I’m not saying more than anyone else in the district, but definitely from outside of the district, we look very attractive in that way. Last summer, we had 90 freshman all of a sudden show up. It was crazy. It was crazy. We had freshmen coming out of our ears. I think that as long as we take them, they’ll continue to come.”

Hasty wants to maintain OHS as a “school of choice” going forward, but acknowledges the uncertainty of the situation.

“Our programs will continue to go even though we’re at a lower student enrollment,” Hasty said. “We’ll still be able to offer hopefully most of those programs. But again, I’m saying this as a ‘hopefully,’ because what you know is when you do shrink, you will probably lose some programs at some point.”

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