Parents concerned about Gastineau

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010

Parents and faculty are concerned about student enrollment at Gastineau Elementary.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Due to fewer students enrolling than expected, the school could lose a teacher. This week, several concerned parents got out signs and stood out by the school and later Cedar Park, encouraging parents to enroll their child at Gastineau.

Julie Costello, co-chairwoman for the Family or Friends of Gastineau school, said that while her children are no longer in the grades affected, she's still concerned.

"It gives potential for maybe having an overcrowded situation for other classes," she said. "Those kids will have to be put somewhere. ... We're just missing kids. Last year we lost one teacher and currently we are possibly going to lose one of our K1 teachers."

The grades affected are kindergarten, first and second grade, said Gastineau Elementary School principal Angela Lunda.

She said there are currently 130 students in kindergarten though second grade. The school needs 136 students to keep all its teachers.

"If we had six more primary students we'd get to keep our teacher," Lunda said.

The district has a goal in kindergarten through second grade of a 21:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio. If that school isn't able to keep a teacher, more students will be in a classroom.

Lunda is concerned about that and believes more students will likely get registered this coming week, but by then it may be too late.

Lunda said the superintendent had given the school until Friday to get additional students.

"Kindergarten doesn't start until the 30th," she said. "Some people bring kids on that day. We also started earlier. We usually start a bit later."

Lunda believes there are some children not yet registered because of not only the early start, but also because some may still be completing summer travels.

"We're encouraging everybody to register their children," she said. "If they have friends or neighbors who are traveling, call the school. Decisions are being made right now. If they come in after Labor Day it's going to put pressure on schools. If we know about them we can plan for it."

District communications manager Kristin Bartlett said the enrollment for Gastineau was projected at 268, while only 242 have enrolled.

Bartlett said estimates are made by a consultant who makes enrollment forecasts based on existing enrollment, Juneau population, the birth rate and economic assumptions. She said for most grades they can get a pretty good estimate, but kindergarten is more difficult because those children have never been registered.

"There's no way to track them," Bartlett said.

The superintendent, assistant superintendent and principals will get together soon and come up with a plan for how to address the differences, Bartlett said.

One possibility is shifting a teacher from Gastineau to Auke Bay Elementary School. Auke Bay currently has 332 students enrolled, 19 more than the projected 313. Bartlett said moving a teacher isn't very common. Another uncommon option is if the district has to cut a teacher, it is possible to add them back if more students enroll.

"It's never an optimum situation to change things after students have already begun school," she said. "We have to look at the least disruptive scenario. Consistency for students is always the best."

Costello agrees that it would be disruptive to lose a teacher after school starts and hopes the situation can be avoided.

"We'd love to see more little smiley faces," she said.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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