New policy causes lower enrollment at Central

Grace+Henderson+%2717+cleans+tubes+from+the+marine+biology+class+fish+tanks.+Students+in+this+program+have+different+shifts+that+involve+feeding+fish+and+cleaning+tanks.

Sophie Cordaro

Grace Henderson '17 cleans tubes from the marine biology class fish tanks. Students in this program have different shifts that involve feeding fish and cleaning tanks.

When the time to begin scheduling next year’s classes comes around, students have more than enough options to choose from. Due to a new school board policy, Central Campus went from having nine to five Johnston students in just one year. Those who are fortunate enough to have met the policy have the opportunity to take classes downtown.

The new policy for Johnston students states that “only seniors who are in good academic standing with at least 20 credits at the start of their senior year may enroll in one course” at any of the participating post-secondary institutions, including Central Campus. According to the Iowa Department of Education and its Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act, eligible high school students can take nonsectarian courses through eligible post-secondary institutions, only if they fit the school district’s criteria and procedures. If a student wants to take a course out of the district, it must be approved by a school counselor and the building principal. The course can not be offered at the high school.

Principal Ryan Woods and Executive Director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation Chris Bergman provided some insight on why the policy changed this school year. “It started as a fiscal responsibility,” Woods said. “Any time we send students anywhere, whether it be Central Campus, DMACC, wherever they’re going, it is an expense to the district.”

Staff members noticed that there were a lot of students taking classes at Central that they could have taken at the high school for free. In order for the district to be responsible to taxpayers, a new policy was formed to save money. The previous policy was very broad and did not really have any limitations, which staff began to investigate and crack down on. Other school districts, like West Des Moines and Ankeny, had established a post secondary policy similar to the one current to Johnston. Woods said that because the district has not always been as large as it is today, they have allowed students to go and take more classes that the school might not offer.

With the money being saved by the new policy and the opportunities rising from the new high school, more classes and programs can be formed for less of the cost that comes with post-secondary programs. “If we can offer that here, we can serve lots of Johnston students with the same dollars,” Bergman said. “We want to invest in some of the exciting new things that we’ve been collecting information and student interest on.”

Counselor Sue Baker is in charge of making ends meet between students and Central Campus staff. “Some of the programs are very good,” Baker said. “When the Des Moines school district went to an AB block, it made it very difficult for our students to participate.”

An AB block schedule is similar to Johnston’s AB schedule, but instead of eight periods a day, students only have four 90-minute periods every other day. A days are periods 1-4, and B days are periods 5-8. These programs used to occur everyday, making it easier for students out of district to attend. “A big part of that was that classes only met every other day,” Baker said. “With the time involved for travel, they could go down there for some of the programs but the amount of credit they could earn and the time frame didn’t match up.” 

Not many students are aware of these challenges or that it is even an option, which can give off the impression that the district does not necessarily want students to attend these classes downtown. “It would depend on the program that they’re interested in, because we have many of the same programs through the DMACC/Career Advantage.” Baker said. “If the program is at Career Advantage, I would say that it might be an easier program in terms of, not necessarily the content, but getting to the class, the amount of credits they can pick up, and it’s everyday.” Receiving a diploma can be affected by the integrated credits from a separate school district.

Central Campus counselor Rebecca Miller is constantly working with students in and out of the Des Moines school district, especially with aligning schedules. “We try to meet the needs of the student who wants to enroll in our programs because we operate on an AB block schedule, so sometimes it gets a bit tricky,” Miller said. “We are willing to work it out so as not to disrupt their home high school classes.”

Miller wants more students to attend these programs and is willing to work with them, their schedule and their high school to make it possible. She and the Central Campus staff were confused by the sudden policy change from the Johnston school board. “Last spring we were told that it was a school board decision that Johnston students would not be able to access Central Campus programs,” Miller said. “For sure (they) would not be able to take more than one, and then we got word that they wouldn’t allow any Johnston students to come to Central Campus.”

Associates of Miller called members of the school board called to ask more questions regarding the policy. They were informed the school board had not made the decision and were left more confused than before. A copy of a letter from the high school principal was sent out shortly after, stating the new policy and how it would affect the amount of students. “It’s confusing,” Miller said. “I don’t really know what the policy is.”

Grace Henderson ’17 is a first year student in the Marine Biology program at Central Campus. Henderson’s primary reason for taking the class is for the more fun experience. “I took this class because it’s something different from the normal, boring science classes at the high school, and it helps prepare students for college,” Henderson said. Henderson’s opinion on the new policy is indifferent. “It gets to be kind of confusing with the schedules, especially on Wednesdays and I wish you could take more classes, but it makes sense.” Henderson said.

Some of the other classes offered at Central Campus include Animal Science and Horticulture, Aviation Technology, Broadcasting and Film, and Fashion Design and Merchandising. Henderson recommends more students to attend some of the programs at Central Campus. “This school offers so many more different educational fields and they are more in-depth and interesting.”

For those eligible to attend Central Campus, the district offers many different open house and orientation days for prospective and incoming students. For more information, contact counselor Rebecca Miller at rebecca.miller@dmschools.org or call the building’s main office at (515)-242-7846.