October 7, 2004

Hanby Middle School is far and away the most popular school in the Brandywine district among students and their parents who use the state's public school choice law to select where the youngsters will go. Brandywood is the leader among the district's elementary schools.

Data prepared by financial officer David Blowman and presented to the school board shows that, during the 2003-04 academic year, Hanby took in 115 by-choice students while losing 35. That net gain of 80 topped 60 at Claymont Intermediate, 59 at Brandywine High and 58 at Brandywood.

Hanby showed more students coming in than leaving in each of the six years during which the law has been on the books. Its net gain ranged from 11during the first year to 96 in 2002-03, when Hanby came in second to Concord High's 98. Brandywood's net gains also led in each of the previous years with the most recent year's topping the previous high of 44 in 2000-01.

All figures include transfers among Brandywine schools as well as students coming to Brandywine from other districts.

Hanby, which had a reported enrollment of 658 last academic year, is the largest of three middle schools in the district. Brandywood, with 407 last year, is second in size, behind Mount Pleasant, among the eight elementary schools.

Hanby and Brandywood are among five schools being considered for possible closure under the two scenarios being submitted to the school board by its facilities taskforce. Supporters of keeping Hanby open were the most numerous and most vocal of testifiers at three recent public hearings on that matter.

Blowman's presentation of 'choice' data to the board's workshop meeting on Oct. 4 was not related to the facilities issue but was part of a report on Brandywine's record of attracting students to the district. Board vice president Joseph Brumskill, who presided at the workship, had ruled out any discussion of facilities issues.

Blowman also reported that a preliminary count found 10,736 youngsters attending Brandywine schools on Sept. 30, up 49 from a year earlier. The count on the last school day in September, after adjustment for normal absences, is considered the 'official' enrollment figure. It is the basis upon which the number of state-authorized teacher positions, some other personnel, and several categories of state financing are determined.

This year's count, he said, includes 14 autistic children who last year attended school in the Christina district.

Superintendent Bruce Harter said the relatively slight changes in enrollment since the 2001-02 academic year "may indicate we're on another plateau" similar to the somewhat higher one that pertained in the late 1990s.

Blowman also reported a decline last academic year in the number of Brandywine area students attending charter schools, and apparently equal declines in enrollment of students living in the Brandywine district but going to nonpublic schools and those who attend Brandywine schools.

Remarking that he did not "have the greatest degree of confidence" in the accuracy of specific figures in the report on 'choice', Blowman presented two tables which varied slightly. That, he explained, was probably because the counts were taken at different times during the respective academic years and enrollments fluctuate during the year. But, he said, trends the figures illustrate apparently are valid.

Reported on a school-by-school basis, the spread between the number of students transferring into Brandywine schools has declined in each of the past five years, from 527 in 1999-2000, the second year 'choice' was in effect, to 102 last year. Those figures include students who live in the district but were 'choiced' into a school different from the one which serves the attendance zone in which they live.

When results vis--vis the five other districts in New Castle County, excluding the vocational district, the year-to-year fluctuation has not been as sharp, going from a net loss of one student in the first year of 'choice' to net gains of 137, 107, 84, 82 and 88, respectively, in the subsequent five years. Brandywine had a net loss of students to the Red Clay district in each of the years, but net gains from the others. Last academic year 299 students came into the district and 211 left.

There is a variation of 14 between the 2003-04 totals in the two tables.

Charter schools enrolled 447 Brandywine residents in the last academic year. Edison Charter attracted 159 of those and Charter School of Wilmington took 113. The total peaked at 489 in 2001-02. Charter schools are public schools which are run in a mode similar to that of private schools.

Blowman told the board that data he compiled belies "the mythical flight from the public school system." On the contrary, he said, "nonpublic schools are feeling the same demographic factors that we are." Over the past several years, they have lost students at a somewhat greater rate than Brandywine has, according to his report.

Last academic year saw 3,651 Brandywine-area students in nonpublic schools, down 50 from the year before. Brandywine's enrollment dropped by 48, from 10,652 in 2002-03 to 10,602.

There was, however, a 6.2% decline in the number of students living in the Brandywine district but going to nonpublic schools between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, he reported. The comparable period saw a 5% enrollment decline in Brandywine schools.

Those figure indicate that 25.6% of the district's school-age population attended independent and religion-based private schools in 2003-04, compared to 25.8% in 1999-2000.

2004. All rights reserved.

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