Janesville50°

Janesville School District showcases its educational options

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Neil Johnson
April 14, 2013

— Until Saturday morning, Janesville residents Russell and Stephanie Lindquist did not realize that the Janesville School district has 42 sites for 4-year-old kindergarten.

They didn’t know that each district school, from Jackson Elementary School to Craig High School, has its own mascot or that Parker High School students build robots.

Until Saturday morning, Russell Lindquist didn’t know that Wisconsin has open enrollment—sometimes called “school choice”—and that Janesville parents can opt to send their child to multiple school sites in Janesville or to other districts in communities that neighbor Janesville.

They know now.

Russell Lindquist, 37, and his wife Stephanie, 36, said they had just brought their 2-year-old daughter, Sasha, to Craig High School on Saturday for the Janesville Kiwanis pancake and sausage breakfast.

What they found at the school was a line of other diners circled around the school’s atrium-style cafeteria. Around the perimeter of the atrium were school district administrators and staff who man the dozens of information booths. Each booth represented a different Janesville school or program.

It was part of an effort called the Janesville Education Options Fair, which the district now holds to showcase its schools and educational innovations to families in Janesville and surrounding communities.

The district was making use of the crowd of 1,600 people that packed the breakfast Saturday, many of them families with young children. At its heart, the fair is part outreach, part marketing for the district, district spokesman Brett Berg said.

Berg said the district was particularly focused Saturday on showing families and residents the broad array of alternative learning and teaching styles used at the district’s four charter schools.

“Those are some of the big things that set Janesville apart from other area districts,” Berg said.

Berg said the fair keyed in on attracting high school students but also cultivating relationships with families of young children who will “hopefully stay enrolled in the district a long time.”

Lindquist’s young family, who has lived in Janesville for just three years, walked away from brunch Saturday with a seed planted by the district.

Sasha is too young for school now, but in a few years, the Lindquists will face a choice: Do they send Sasha to the Janesville School District—or to other neighboring school districts in Milton, Beloit or even Orfordville?

Clearly, district officials at the event hope that such young families as the Lindquists choose Janesville schools. Part of the motivation, Berg acknowledged, is linked to open enrollment.

The state’s public school open enrollment period—the timeframe in which families can request to move their child from one district to another district of their choice—ends April 30.

Districts such as Janesville, which has seen shrinking or flat student enrollment for the last several years, rely on open enrollment to increase their student population or at least keep it stable.

Student enrollment is used to determine state aid. Each student enrolled in a district draws thousands of dollars in financial reimbursement from the state for the district.

When a school district loses a student to a move or open enrollment, it hurts the district’s bottom line because it loses out on state aid.

Also, a newer state law requires that in certain cases, school districts must pay for some costs of students they lose through open enrollment.

Earlier this school year, the district trumpeted that it had ended a four-year trend of declining enrollment. Last fall, district added 163 students through open enrollment, surpassing a district goal to bring in 100 students through school choice.

Combined with losses in enrollment, the district had a net enrollment increase last fall of 18 students, according to district records.

With flat state funding and rising costs, a district such as Janesville must compete with other area districts for students. Literally, every student counts.

“Every district tries hard to keep enrollment up,” Berg said. “But it’s not the same as saying we or other districts are out to take each other’s students.”

He said the district does focus heavily on luring back students the district has lost to Milton or other districts because they may offer a program or set of courses Janesville does not have.

Later, the same students may want to play a sport at Janesville that’s not offered at their school.

Or a parent could want their teen child enrolled in an alternative learning environment such as the project-based learning model at TAGOS Leadership Academy in Janesville schools.

“It might be a fit for them, and that’s what this is about,” Berg said.


 

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