Smooth Start to Year Despite Enrollment Shifts

Lunchtime at the high school quad seems extremely busy, but the campus actually experienced a drop in enrollment this year. Photo by Danielle Robbins

Enrollment climbed this year at Thurston Middle School and Top of the World Elementary by 41 and 28 students respectively, though district-wide enrollment only rose by seven students. El Morro Elementary experienced an unusual 60-student drop in enrollment, while Laguna Beach High School’s student census fell by 12.

Even so, school officials reported that they were able to balance all class sizes while maintaining their existing staffing.

Current enrollment district-wide totals 3,040, with 604 students at El Morro, 669 at TOW, 774 at Thurston and 993 at the high school.

The influx of Thurston students was anticipated since last school year’s fifth-grade classes at El Morro and TOW formed one of the largest classes ever. “This just appears to be a bubble moving up into TMS, along with a few additional kids across TOW’s grade levels,” said Jerry Vlasic, human resources and public communications director.

TOW principal Ron La Motte said the new students enrolled across grade levels, so that balancing the classes with current staff “worked out beautifully.” Procuring tables from other areas on campus resolved a shortage of lunch seating in the first week, he said.

During their kick-off assembly that emphasized a school-wide culture of kindness that they call Rachel’s Challenge, La Motte said the guest speaker pointed out the importance of welcoming new students and making them feel at home. “Our students responded very positively and are working hard to make our school a welcoming place,” he said.

Given the bulging sixth grade class, Thurston added sections to their schedule, said principal Jenny Salberg. However, she maintained that they were still able to do this and ensure balanced class sizes with their existing compliment of staff and teachers.

In anticipation of this year’s student bubble, the Thurston team strove to ensure that all students received an accurate schedule when school began.

Thanks to a supportive and responsive PTA, which purchased additional dining tables, Thurston, like TOW, avoided a seating imbalance. Salberg said that the extra tables combined with the start up of the school’s many lunchtime activities helped to give every student a “home base” during the meal hour.

What’s more, despite having to accommodate the largest class of sixth graders, preparations for the annual sixth grade science camp on Catalina Island are going well due to the organizational skills of Mike Modeer and Anne Sadler, Salberg said. They managed to increase the number of parent chaperones to maintain a ratio of one adult for almost every three kids.

Chris Duddy, principal at El Morro Elementary School, noted, not without enthusiasm, that this was the first year enrollment had not increased at his school, both a boon to class size and a welcome lessening of traffic congestion during drop off and pick up times.

Likewise, the high school “had a wonderful first day,” said principal Joanne Culverhouse, who noted that an improved scheduling system and proactive counselors led to fewer schedule changes. They also instituted a new tardiness protocol that has already proven effective.


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