Declining student enrollment
Waupaca loses 50 students to virtual schools
By Robert Cloud
Since the 2016-17 academic year, enrollment at Waupaca schools has dropped by 63 students.
Mark Flaten, the district’s director of teaching and learning, discussed enrollment figures with the Waupaca School Board when it met on Jan. 12.
In 2016-17, Waupaca’s Third Friday Count was 2,091 students. The count was 2,028 students in 2020-21.
“Our enrollment, like many schools in the state and across the state, are declining,” Flaten said. “This year, we’ve lost, so far, 24 students due to open enrollment. Last year, we lost a net of 13 students due to open enrollment.”
Flaten said the Waupaca School District had a net loss of 24 students, but lost 50 students just to virtual schools.
The district surveyed families regarding whether they preferred in-person learning five days a week or on-demand virtual learning five days a week in the 2021-22 school year.
Of the 706 responses, 583 said they preferred in-person learning, while 51 said they preferred on-demand virtual learning.
Seven responses indicted preference for the hybrid model of rotating between in-person and virtual learning. Forty-eight said “other.”
Seventeen of the families did not indicate a preference due to graduation this year.
Key points to consider
In his report, Flaten offered several key points for the board to consider.
• We have learned from our Chain Exploration Charter School, creating a charter school requires a large investment in time and resources. At this time, we believe our efforts of meeting student
virtual learning requests will be better met through a flexible approach to online learning, similar to what we have been doing since March.
• Creating a virtual learning plan option for 2021-22, and not a virtual charter school, is the direction we will continue working towards for the 2021-22 school year. At the present time, some of these efforts will result in certain courses at Waupaca High School being offered in-person and online, while a full on-demand learning plan option may also be offered for our younger students.
• We will continue seeking input from our students, parents and staff, monitoring and making adjustments as warranted.
• Although our enrollment trends indicate that we will have fewer students enrolled in the District, we will be hiring an additional teacher, an eighth-grade teacher, fulfilling our Chain Exploration Center staffing contract obligations. The staffing levels in all other buildings are projected to remain status quo for the 2021-22 school year (although these projections are subject to change based on movement of students and staff).
Flaten said the district has learned from its experience since March of last year that not all classes can be as effective online as they are in person.
“Do you see in the future the possibility of having a full-time teacher on our staff who is for virtual classes only, even beyond the pandemic?” board member Pat Phair asked.
Flaten noted that about 85% of the survey respondents preferred in-person learning, while 15% prefer on-demand virtual learning.
“How do we manage that from a staffing situation?” Flaten asked.
He said designating one virtual-only teacher for each grade level would “have ripple effects,” increasing class sizes for other students.