Chula Vista breaks enrollment record

08.23.2012 | San Diego Union-Tribune | Caroline Dipping

CHULA VISTA — The 2012-13 school year in South County started less than a month ago and already a record has been broken.

Enrollment in the Chula Vista Elementary School District is 28,304 students, the first time in district history it has reached that figure. That is 189 more students than when school ended in May.

And, if tradition holds true, the numbers will keep trending upward. The 103-square-mile district is already the largest elementary school district in California and has an operating budget for the 2012-13 school year of $182.7 million, not counting charter schools. The charter budget for this school year is nearly $32 million.

The elementary school district’s enrollment typically grows as the school year goes along.

“It’s exciting because we have the opportunity to educate more students,” Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said. “It means more and more families are choosing Chula Vista to entrust with the education of their children.

“We are very appreciative, and excited about rising to and exceeding the community’s expectations.”

To keep pace with its burgeoning student body, the district is hiring new staff, saving some positions from the budget ax, and building new schools.

This spring, ground was broken on Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School, the first new school to be built in the district since 2007. When it opens its doors in July 2013, it will be the 46th school, including charters, in the district.

“This new campus will be a draw in and of itself,” Escobedo said. “Already, we are seeing more and more families with young children moving into the community. While not quite like the boom days of the last decade, this too is a very positive sign for the regional economy.”

Staffing is also on the upswing. The higher enrollment figures have enabled the district to hire about a dozen teachers for its new transitional kindergarten program and avoid layoffs.

“We have been able to restore 24 full-time equivalent teaching positions that would have been eliminated if not for the combination of increased class size, the creation of transitional kinder, and continued enrollment growth across our system,” Escobedo said.

District officials said the uptick in their student body is fueled in part by the region’s affordable housing as well as the school district’s low class sizes and high Academic Performance Index (API) scores, and the growth of its charter schools. Two charters have stepped into the middle school arena by offering eighth grade, and this year, Chula Vista Learning Community Charter launched its inaugural ninth grade.

And then there is transitional kindergarten.

A state law signed in 2010 began phasing in an earlier cutoff age for kindergarten, saying students must turn 5 by Nov. 1 for the 2012-13 school year. The previous date had been Dec. 1.

The Chula Vista school district expanded its offering by making its transitional kindergarten accessible to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Nov. 1. When it began letting families know about the program late last spring, it figured it might get 90 students.

More than 180 enrolled.

“It seemed overwhelming there for a couple of weeks,” said Nancy Kerwin, the district’s executive director for student, family and community services. “We grew from initially planning for three classrooms, and the phone kept ringing.”

Knowing it couldn’t accommodate transitional kindergarten at every school because of space limitations, the district had to decide where the classes would go. Ultimately, several principals ponied up rooms that might have otherwise been used for teacher collaboration or PTA.

To date, the district offers one transitional kindergarten class with 22 to 25 students in each at seven schools. The sites are Los Altos, Halecrest, McMillin, Parkview, Lomas Verde, Chula Vista Hills and Sunnyside.

The demand is only going to grow. Next year, by law, districts will need to serve all children with October birthdays. The following school year, they will have to accommodate children with September birthdays, as well.

“We will find the space,” Kerwin said.

District spokesman Anthony Millican said the average daily attendance money coming in from the growing enrollment is “a positive no matter which way you slice it,” and it is a “unique feeling” to be able to hire teachers. But, he said, it is not to imply that the Chula Vista Elementary School District is any less mindful of this fall’s election, in which Californians will vote whether to approve a $6 billion tax increase to help the state solve its long-running fiscal problem.

“We are still holding our breath for the November vote and we are in the same boat with every other district in the state in that regard,” Millican said. “But knock wood, we are blessed by this kind of convergence of factors.

“We can’t grow our way out of the recession, because it’s a very slow recovery, but it certainly helps us fend off some issues that are faced in other districts.”; (619) 293-2823

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