Canyon del Oro High School cut its astronomy class and its first-year German class this year due to insufficient enrollment.

A few miles northwest of CDO, Ironwood Ridge High School added more than a dozen class sections mid-quarter to minimize classes that were filled with as many as 44


As both schools celebrate the end of two years of massive student migrations, they also are dealing, in the aftermath, with the new realities of their grown-or-shrunken student bodies.

"We don't expect any big changes from this point on," said Canyon del Oro High School's assistant principal Bob Wendel, referring to the school's enrollment numbers.

In 2001, Ironwood Ridge opened its doors to ninth and 10th graders, providing great relief to CDO, which had a district-estimated capacity of 2,200 but held nearly 3,000 students during its most overcrowded stage.

The old school's enrollment went down to 2,447 that school year as the new school acquired a first-year enrollment of 753.

In 2002, the new school added juniors. This year, it has added seniors, completing its accumulation of new grade levels.

CDO is down to an enrollment of 1,861 this year, which is on the lower end of its ideal range, Wendel said.

"What we want to do is maintain about 1,800," he said. "We prefer to not go below that. We feel 1,800 to 2,000 is a good number for a high school."

If not for Arizona's open-enrollment law and the 238 students who used the law to attend CDO this year rather than Ironwood Ridge, their neighborhood school, an enrollment of 1,800 would be only wishful thinking.

The 1994 open-enrollment law allows a student to request enrollment at any school in Arizona, regardless of whether the student lives within the school's enrollment area.

But the law has funneled more than just 238 students to CDO, Wendel said.

"Most of our open enrollment, now, is coming from people outside of the district who want to come to CDO," he said. "We've been taking them."

The year before Ironwood opened, the Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board changed CDO's enrollment boundaries, leaving the school with one feeder school - Cross Middle School - rather than three.

That meant any Wilson K-8 and Coronado school students who had planned to attend CDO had to open-enroll.

Current board president Nancy Young Wright voted against the plan. She said she didn't think the district had enough information about new housing development in the county and Oro Valley to redraw boundaries.

She said she feared Ironwood Ridge would soon become overcrowded, that CDO would have to reduce its programs, and that the boundary issue would return.

"We have really struggled with this concept of what the numbers would look like," she said.

Young Wright was right on at least one count - the curriculum at CDO has thinned out a bit as the student body has shrunk.

Students wishing to take German I have the option of doing so at the northwest campus of Pima Community College this year, Wendel said. German II and III still are offered at the high school, but could be phased out.

"We want to finish off the students in the program," Wendel said. "If we have enough interest in German, we could bring it back."

Astronomy is out for the year, too, though it could possibly show up on the class schedule in the future, Wendel said.

"Certainly when you lose over 1,000 students, you also lose staffing with that; and when you lose that, you lose the ability to offer particular electives," he said.

On the other hand - in the grand scheme - small is nice.

This year, for the first time, all students at CDO fit into one assembly gathering rather than two. All math teachers have their own classroom for the first time, and the school's north campus has long been unneeded.

"There was a time, when we were biggest, when file folders were used for people's mail," said Chris Yetman, the mathematics department chair. "It was insane."

As for Young Wright's concern that Ironwood Ridge would quickly become overcrowd, that's not a reality yet.

At 1,662 students this year, the school still is well beneath its district-estimated capacity of 2,250.

However, a likely enrollment surge hovers on its horizon.

"Where I know I need to pay attention is that there's obviously a lot of new construction in the Ironwood Ridge neighborhood," said Sam McClung, the school's principal.

Two large housing developments are going up by Coronado K-8 School, one of the high school's feeders.

Even with space left to fill, the school has struggled with crowded classrooms this year - a headache that began two years ago when the school first opened its doors.

At 753 students in 2001, the school's enrollment was about 100 students higher than administration had expected several months before school began.

This year, the school also has more students than was projected, said McClung.

When some classrooms became filled in August with as many as 44 students, the school used money from the district's maintenance and operation fund to add 14 classes ranging from biology and pre-calculus to aerobics and graphic arts.

Though the district is low on funds, it sets aside money for reducing class sizes, knowing that people are mobile and enrollment trends can change midstream, said Todd Jaeger, the associate to the superintendent.

Students were asked to transfer voluntarily to new class sections. When that didn't fully alleviate the over-enrollment, randomly selected students were told to move.

Though exceeding capacity is not an immediate threat for Ironwood Ridge, district officials recognize that teacher shortages could increasingly crowd classrooms.

To address that possibility, the district is considering a budget override election, Jaeger said. Money from budget overrides quite often is used to hire additional teachers.

The earliest possible date for an override election would be March 9.

So far, Ironwood Ridge has been able to accommodate students who have requested open enrollment there. This year, the school accepted 45 of the 49 applications submitted before school started. The denials were issued for poor attendance.

McClung said he couldn't say whether the new developments on the horizon might hurt open enrollment, though "anything's possible."

"The best way of looking at it is that the governing board would expect me to take care of the kids in the neighborhood first," he said.

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