This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
KENNETT SQUARE – The problem is present at Pocopson Elementary School and now the only question is whether a redistricting of the four elementary schools will happen in the Unionville-Chadds Ford district in the near future.
Just looking at the enrollment figures of the schools says it all.
In the last 13 years, enrollment at Pocopson Elementary has had over 600 students four times while the other nine years saw numbers at or above 530.
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Compared to the other three elementaries — Hillendale, Chadds Ford and Unionville — not a single one of them has had over 491 students in one year. In fact, none of them have been above 400 students since the 2010-11 school year.
This year alone, Pocopson is home to 652 students, while Chadds Ford has 350, Hillendale 328 and Unionville 395.
“It is a topic that the administration doesn’t bring forward to the board and the greater community lightly,” said Superintendent John Sanville. “It’s an important issue. It’s an important issue for our families, it’s an important issue for our staff and, most importantly, it’s vitally important for our students.”
Sanville made a presentation at the board’s work session on Sept. 8 and made brief comments on the subject at the regular, monthly meeting Sept. 15.
“At this point, there have been no decisions made as to what’s going to happen moving forward, if anything,” he said. “We don’t know what the decision is yet. We’re going to go into a study, we’re going to look at the data and then, based on the what we find, then we’ll make a thoughtful decision based on that input.”
The current boundary lines for the schools was adopted in 2001 and was reviewed in 2008 and again in 2010.
In the latter review, the presentation to the board included a possible elementary configuration change, but the following year, the board voted not to study the changes.
While the population has dropped at Hillendale and Unionville and remained stable at Chadds Ford, Pocopson is the only school to see a rise.
If this population trend continues, Pocopson will not be able to run the same program which the other schools provide.
The district tries to maintain classroom sizes of a maximum of 23 students for kindergarten through second grade and 26 for third through fifth.
As it stands, Pocopson averages 28 students per classroom, while the other three average 18 or less.
It is projected that in two years, Pocopson will reach an average of 30 students per classroom.
“We understand that families have purchased homes based on our current attendance zones,” Sanville said. “We understand that students make attachments to friends and they make attachments to teachers. We all formed bonds based on great experiences we have at our schools. Ultimately, we really understand and respect the feelings, the emotions and the energy that our community feels around this issue.”
Sanville believes each of the elementary schools should be able to provide each student with the same academic experience.
The administration doesn’t want to use trailers at a school if the other buildings hold empty classrooms.
Moving forward, the plan — if redistricting is the decision — would be to avoid splitting neighborhoods and minimizing the number of students impacted within the parameters of the strategic guiding principals.
The hope is to develop a six-year plan so that no student is affected twice by redistricting.
Sanville wants to form a committee made up of parents, board members, principals, district administrators, counselors and other staff, as well as engage the stakeholders — parents, staff and the community — and appoint a consultant to analyze the population enrollment projections.
“We want to partner and work together when we make decisions moving forward,” Sanville said. “On Friday (Sept. 12), Bob Cochran and I received open bids from two different companies who responded to our request for proposals to conduct the study of the elementary boundary lines.”
To gain more information on the groups bidding, they will hold interviews with both firms this week.
Sanville plans to bring forward the information gathered to the board at the next work session in October.
“This will give us an opportunity to discuss at the work session and then we can move forward with the decision,” he said. “We can then fully inform the board in terms of information, the bid amounts and the works that can be accomplished by these outfits and consultants. That will still gives us time to make a decision in a timely manner for our community.”
The district is currently working on creating a page on the website solely regarding the idea of redistricting.
The page will feature the presentation Sanville made at the work session, along with FAQs and the information from both proposals to keep the community up-to-speed and give them the information needed to voice their opinions.
The current timeline is projected to have a recommendation to the board in March of 2015.
“I encourage everyone to stay informed and involved moving forward,” Sanville said.