Modesto City Schools reverses 5-year enrollment decline
In the first school year since 2016-2017, the Modesto City School District has seen an increase in enrollment.
Last week, Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Tim Zirley informed the Board of Education of an increase of 416 students this September compared to last school year. That drew applause and cheers from the district’s trustees and staff, to which he replied, “Yes, that’s very interesting.”
The total number of TK-12 students, including special and alternative education, is 29,551 students, Zirli said. This breaks a steady decline in enrollment from 30,368 students in 2016-17 to 29,135 in 2021-22.
He said the good news led to the board’s first official submission of enrollment figures in several years. In recent years, the report has simply been tucked into the agenda package because “there are so many ways to say we’re going down.”
One of the key drivers of district enrollment is interdistrict transfer requests between Modesto City Schools and, primarily, Sylvan Union and Ceres counties, Zirli said.
He shared with the administration the numbers for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years that show more transfer requests from Modesto City Schools than their own. But this year saw an increase in the number of students transferring into MCS and a decrease in the number of students transferring out, resulting in a net gain of 78 students over last year.
Keeping and attracting families
Interdistrict transfers have been a concern of Sarah Noguchi since she was hired by the district as superintendent in June 2018, Zirli noted. “We started the conversation about (being) a destination district,” he said, “and that means what we can do not only to keep our families, but to attract other families who want to come to Modesto City Schools, to get an education.”
In its presentation, it noted several “positive enrollment changes” the district has made. One is transitional kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs, Zirli said. Families now “have the security of knowing that their transition daycare or their kindergartner is being dropped off in the morning and will be taken care of all day instead of the half-day programs we had a few years ago,” he said. TK has been spent at nearly every elementary school in the district, Zirli said.
The district also has expanded before- and after-school programs, he said, as well as a “strong expansion” of alternative programs.
The big change was the expansion of Tuolumne Elementary from TK-6 to TK-8 and the addition of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academy, Zirli noted.
The district believes it has lost some families to Ceres Unified, which has an elementary and middle school nearby, he said. “So we made it possible for our Tuolumne junior high families to stay at this school through eighth grade. …”
Other efforts to increase student enrollment include expanding the district’s Bilingual Language Academy to TK-8 and expanding the Modesto Virtual Academy independent study program to all K-12 students.
Career Assessment Technical Ed
In discussing the next steps to continue stabilizing student enrollment, Zirli touched on professional development suggestions for teachers to continue to improve student academic performance. He said the district prides itself on its Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate program — college-level academic coursework that appeals to families.
And he said Modesto City Schools is evaluating future options for expanding CTE (career technical education), asking, “How can we further prepare our students for the workforce after graduation?”
Board member Cindy Marks told Zirli she was inspired and excited to see the student body grow, “and not just a handful — 400 of them.”
She asked about the big jump in enrollment at Downey High School, with 153 more students than last year. Other high schools saw more modest growth (Enochs – 38, Gregory – 24, Johansen – 36) or declines (Beyer’s enrollment dropped by 56, Davis by 47 and Modesto by 18).
No information was available at the Zirley meeting to explain the spike, but district spokeswoman Linda Muma Solario said in an email to The Bee later this week, “There are a number of factors contributing to the increase in enrollment in Downey. High school, some of which we don’t track.”
She said Modesto City Schools transferred about 150 in-district schools to Downey this year. An intra-district transfer allows a student to request a transfer from the school of residence to another school in the district. This includes ninth graders from the surrounding feeder districts who live within the boundaries of MCS High School.
“One contributing factor may be that MCS has a long history of successful vocational technical education programs,” Solario wrote. “Like all of our high school campuses, Downey High offers a wide variety of CTE programs and unique course offerings that may be of particular interest to students.”
Zearley’s presentation on enrollment calculations, along with supporting documents, can be found at bit.ly/3snOfXK.