School transfers got easier in west county, raising concerns about future enrollment at El Molino High

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School enrollment

Below are enrollment numbers by academic year for El Molino and Analy high schools, respectively.

2003-04: 1,099, 1,394

2004-05: 1,104, 1,368

2005-06: 1,039, 1,404

2006-07: 954, 1,361

2007-08: 937, 1,302

2008-09: 898, 1,298

2009-10: 852, 1,280

2010-11: 823, 1,305

2011-12: 753, 1,319

2012-13: 674, 1,355

2013-14: 605, 1,369

2014-15: 606, 1,330

2015-16: 592, 1,300

2016-17: 606, 1,206

2017-18: 596, 1,156

2018-19: 570, 1,120

It’s now easier for students to transfer between high schools in west county, after the school district changed its rules to meet state school enrollment regulations.

Although some students, parents and educators welcomed the change, others raised concerns over the future of El Molino High School, which has struggled over the years to maintain enrollment.

As long as they meet a Jan. 31 deadline, students no longer have to prove they’re being bullied, moving into a new neighborhood, or facing verifiable hardships to transfer between Analy and El Molino high schools.

The new intradistrict transfer policy removes those requirements. It was approved last month by the West Sonoma County Union High School District board after the district discovered the previous policy violated a state code on school enrollment that went into effect three years ago.

“The updates provide for students residing in the district to attend any school in the district when there is space available at that school,” Superintendent Toni Beal wrote in an email.

El Molino is at about half its 1,150-student capacity. Some residents worry the new policy will pave way for more students to leave the Forestville school for Sebastopol’s Analy High School, which has nearly double the number of students.

The two schools have competed over students and resources over the years.

Gaylynne Sword, who has a freshman at El Molino and two other children who previously graduated from the school, spearheaded a few years ago the El Molino Action Alliance to help the school retain and recruit students in light of dwindling enrollment numbers. The group launched a newsletter to keep the community informed, as well as created school brochures and organized volunteers to work on various projects, including the rose garden.

“I’m hoping that (the new policy) will be something that will hopefully benefit both schools, but I think time is going to tell,” Sword said.

El Molino previously saw a major exodus of students, prompting the district to tighten its intradistrict transfer requirements about six years ago, according to Diane Landry, school board president.

“We have to have a balance between what is feared, and the present moment,” Landry said.

Several years ago, El Molino was placed by federal education officials on an improvement program through the No Child Left Behind Act for failing to make adequate progress on standardized test scores after two years. The school’s enrollment has been cut nearly in half over the past 16 years. During the 2004-05 school year, 1,099 students were enrolled. This year, it has about 570 students, El Molino Principal Matt Dunkle said.

School districts throughout the state have seen student enrollment drop over the past decade, in part because of changing demographics.

However, Analy’s enrollment in recent years has stayed consistently above 1,000 students, peaking at 1,404 during the 2005-06 school year. This year, 1,120 students were enrolled in the school, which has a capacity of 1,350.

“There’s declining enrollment in Sonoma County, so we’re hoping to maintain enrollment. I don’t think we’ll reach capacity,” said Raul Guerrero, Analy High School principal. ”We gain a little bit more than we transfer out, but it’s not that much of a difference.”

Twenty-three students requested intradistrict transfers to Analy for this school year, although six El Molino students were denied, according to a September district report. Meanwhile, 18 students requested transfers to El Molino and were approved.

As requests for transfers within and outside the district continue to roll in, district officials say it’s hard to predict how the new policy will affect school enrollment.

“In terms of impact, results are unsure at this point as we are still receiving intra and interdistrict requests,” Beal said in an email. “Both of our comprehensive schools offer excellent programs and have space to accommodate additional students.”

Dunkle initially grew concerned when he heard the transfer policy would be changed. However, he now says he’s confident the tight-knit school will retain most its students.

“I don’t think we’re going to see an exodus one way or another,” Dunkle said.

The school is undergoing a major construction project, which the district hopes will be a draw to the campus. The new 9,000-square-foot, 298-seat performing arts center is under construction. Funded by bonds, it cost $7 million.

The first phase — the theater — will likely open this summer, Dunkle said. Students who currently use a multipurpose room will have access to the theater for dance, choir, band, theater and other performing arts classes.

“Theater has always been strong at El Molino,” Dunkle said.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

School enrollment

Below are enrollment numbers by academic year for El Molino and Analy high schools, respectively.

2003-04: 1,099, 1,394

2004-05: 1,104, 1,368

2005-06: 1,039, 1,404

2006-07: 954, 1,361

2007-08: 937, 1,302

2008-09: 898, 1,298

2009-10: 852, 1,280

2010-11: 823, 1,305

2011-12: 753, 1,319

2012-13: 674, 1,355

2013-14: 605, 1,369

2014-15: 606, 1,330

2015-16: 592, 1,300

2016-17: 606, 1,206

2017-18: 596, 1,156

2018-19: 570, 1,120

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