But enrollment has risen dramatically at Sunset High
School enrollment in Del Norte County is the lowest it’s been in more than a decade, according to education officials, but Sunset High School’s has doubled.
More than 140 students currently attend Sunset High School, according to Principal Suzie Dooley, compared to 70–75 at this time last year.
The increase in students at Sunset has already prompted district officials to hire another full-time teacher, said Superintendent Don Olson. The district may hire an additional full-time teacher and is considering placing a cap on the number of students allowed at Sunset this year, he said.
When Sunset High was first established, it wasn’t unusual for would-be students to find themselves placed on a lengthy waiting list, Olson said. If student enrollment continues to increase, a waiting list may be necessary again, he said.
“The typical pattern for Sunset is to start at 60 (students) in September and end at about 100,” Olson said. “This year they started at over 100 and now we’re at 140. We’re going to be working at the site level to put a cap on Sunset because we can only allow it to get so big this year due to our staffing.”
According to Deputy Superintendent Rodney Jahn, who recently delivered a report on student enrollment to the School Board, most of the additional students at Sunset High come from Del Norte High School. A handful are coming from Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, he said.
Out of 125 students counted at Sunset High as of Sept. 28, 73 of them were high school seniors, Jahn said. Thirty-three juniors, 15 sophomores and four freshmen were counted at Sunset High as of Sept. 28.
Despite the increase at Sunset High, student enrollment in the district and county as a whole has decreased, Jahn said. With only 4,146 students, enrollment is at the lowest it’s been since at least the 1998-99 school year, he said, adding that’s as far back as his report goes. This includes students attending adult education classes, county Office of Education schools and Castle Rock Charter School.
Last year 4,318 students attended Del Norte County schools, Jahn said.
Student enrollment has also decreased at some of the area’s private schools, Jahn said.
“More families are finding it harder to survive in a small rural county,” he said, adding that he expects student enrollment in the county to continue to decline. “There are more economic options at some of the cities. If you look around town it’s not just people that have left. There are a number of businesses that have left also.”
Dooley credited the enrollment increase to its education model, the redwood forest adjacent to the school site and the canopy tours and field trips students conduct through it and word-of-mouth.
“We do something called experiential education,” she said. “Our students invited younger students throughout the county and our students facilitate field trips around the redwood ecosystem. We have had a number of parents come and they were very impressed with our students and very impressed with our site in general and the rapport they saw between students and teachers.”
The enrollment increase at Sunset High School has come with its challenges. According to Dooley, in the past there have been 15-20 students in a classroom. State education officials recommend a ratio of 13 students to one teacher in an alternative high school setting. At Sunset that ratio has doubled to roughly 30 students to one teacher, she said.
“We’re still using the same methods we use in the past,” Dooley said. “We do a lot of talking with our students. I spend a lot of time during the day with my students in my office talking with groups of them, encouraging them to be in class, encouraging them to study.”
Dooley added that word-of-mouth and comments from students on Facebook may be one reason why enrollment doubled this year.
“We’re a little surprised we’re already at 141, but it’s a wonderful, wonderful situation,” she said. “We feel very proud of our success.”