Low Enrollment From Housing Downturn Prompts New Teaching Styles

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, September 8, 2008

It’s the second week of classes at Cosumnes Oaks High School and Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle School. Both share the same campus which is just off of Elk Grove Boulevard. District officials decided to build on this 70 acre spot a few years ago, in the midst of the city’s housing boom. 

"When we planned this school, we planned it during the era of all that growth." 

Patrick McDougall is principal of both schools. He says there were supposed to be about 8,000 new homes built in this area. But the school sits smack dab in the middle of a stalled housing development…surrounded by dirt and weeds.

"And so our kids are benefiting from the fact that they have all the facilities and amenities of a large comprehensive high school or middle school and there’s a lot less kids here."  

In fact, total enrollment here is only 1,300 kids right now…on a campus designed to accommodate 3,600 kids. 

"This school is in the perfect position to do all the national best practice strategies that are going on at the best schools in America."   

…such as the “house” concept of small learning communities within each grade. Every house has a team of teachers who work together on each individual student’s achievement. And “looping.” That’s when the same group of teachers and students stick together for two-years…and in some cases all four years, from middle school through high school...like the students in the school’s band class. 

Algebra teacher Matt Winn used to teach at nearby Franklin High School. He says “looping” leads to better teaching because he’ll know his students better.  

"Those connections that I make during the first year will carry over. On the big school model which I was at the previous four years it became next to impossible to have that same sort of experience where you’re able to get to know your students really well."  

But enrollment won’t always be low here. Principal Patrick McDougall says his goal is to refine the loop concept as the schools grow. 

"These homes will eventually be built and the people who buy them will expect their children to have a great school to go to." 

McDougall says he has his work cut out for him. Because while the housing market is eventually expected to recover…state education cuts are not.