Redwood School: Too popular for its own good

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate April 28, 2014 01:03 pm

Vehicles that have come to pick up students at Redwood School are backed up on Lake Earl Drive. The school’s parking and loading areas were designed for an enrollment of 350–400 students, but the school currently has a population of 492. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
 School district officials on Thursday decided to restrict the number of students that will attend Redwood School next fall, giving priority to children who live within the school’s boundaries and those whose siblings are enrolled.

Del Norte County Unified School District’s intradistrict open enrollment policy allows parents to choose the school their child will attend regardless of where they live, according to Superintendent Don Olson. But with Redwood’s projected enrollment for next year mirroring its current enrollment, the School Board chose to cap the number of intradistrict transfers if the school’s student population reached 500. 

Olson, who initially recommended an enrollment cap for all students at 500, said he would return with a “cleaned up” version of the proposal at the Board’s May 8 meeting.

Even though it’s eight miles north of Crescent City in Fort Dick, with 492 children, Redwood’s student population outnumbers the district’s other elementary schools, according to Olson.

“We are at the point where we can’t allow Redwood to continue to grow in groups of 30 or 40,” he said, adding that the facility can hold up to 532 students. “Right now the students that graduate and the new group coming in is keeping us right where we are.”

The School Board’s decision came after the Local Transportation Commission last fall conducted a study at Redwood, which fronts Lake Earl Drive, analyzing the flow of traffic during school arrival and dismissal times. 

According to the report, vehicles coming to pick up students typically form a queue on Lake Earl Drive 15 minutes before school gets out with some drivers choosing to wait in the left-turn lane because the parking lot is full. The existing parking and loading areas are suited for an enrollment of 350 to 400 students, according to the report.

The Local Transportation Commission’s analysis included a number of recommendations, such as increasing the number of parking spaces and curb space available for loading and unloading and acquiring additional land for new parking. Its first recommendation was to reduce the school’s enrollment.

“They came up with a few plans for us, all of which had to do with significant amounts of money,” Olson said. “One of them included buying land to the north of the school and clear-cutting the small redwood forest.”

Olson said the district hopes to reconstruct the front parking area using voter-approved bond money to help alleviate the traffic flow issues.

Redwood and Mary Peacock Elementary School on Arlington Drive have always attracted the majority of intradistrict transfers, Redwood Principal Jeff Slayton said. Redwood typically gets between 30 and 40 students from out of the area each year and sometimes more, he said, but the parents have to provide their own transportation.

“They find a way to get out here,” he said, adding that some of his students come from as far away as Klamath. “We draw from everywhere.”

During a typical school day, with dismissals at 2:15 and 3:05 p.m., it takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes on average for parents to pick up their students, Slayton estimated.

The superintendent’s initial recommendation of capping enrollment for all Redwood School students at 500 was met with concern from Slayton and teacher Mary-Michelle Cupp. They worried that such a cap would have a negative impact on the number of students in each grade level and would force the school to send away students who live in the area.

Cupp, who teaches a combination class with second- and third-graders, said staff’s biggest concern is how an enrollment cap would affect the school’s individual grade levels. She said she worried about having to turn away some incoming kindergartners who are local because the bulk of the school’s enrollment were made up of students who came from out of the neighborhood.

“That leaves us with one kindergarten teacher and one kindergarten class instead of two,” Cupp said, adding that it’s difficult for those teaching a combination class or the only class in a particular grade level to collaborate with their colleagues in the same grade level. “Having to collaborate with another grade level (teacher) is not the same when they’re doing a different curriculum.”

Board members also said they didn’t want to keep a child from going to Redwood School if that was the school they should go to. 

“What I would hate to see is that we allow all the intradistricts up to 530-something and then a family moves in and we have nowhere to put them because we are at our capacity,” Board Member Lori Cowan said. “We just need to watch the intradistricts is what I’m getting in this.”

Board President Don McArthur concurred, saying he didn’t want to box the district in.

When asked what makes Redwood so attractive to parents, Slayton said the school has always performed well academically and in sports.

“The school does have a family feel to it,” he said, adding that parents from elsewhere in the county hear of Redwood largely through word-of-mouth. “We have a strong staff and a good mixture of teachers.”

For more information on the Local Transportation Commission’s circulation study on Redwood School, visit www.dnltc.org. The commission also performed a traffic study for Bess Maxwell Elementary School at El Dorado Street and West Harding Avenue. 

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