HOPE — After two years of declining enrollment, the Flatrock-Hawcreek School Corp. might be seeing a positive turnaround.

During the second official enrollment count of the past school year, the Hope-based district had 842 students in February, a slight increase from the September enrollment count, superintendent Shawn Price said.

“That has never happened,” Price said. “Since we started the February count, we’ve usually lost students. We saw that as a sign that maybe we’ve plateaued or gained.”

Although official enrollment counts won’t be released until next month, Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School and Hope Elementary are reporting new student registrations from either outside the district or families new to the Hope area, Price said.

Story continues below gallery

Higher enrollment generally increases state funding for local schools. And since the school corporation has the ability to add more students without hiring more staff, an increase in enrollment would benefit the corporation’s bottom line, the superintendent said.

One new Hauser student this year is Samantha Brown, 16, a transfer from Columbus East High School. In order to help the daughter of Greg Brown and Jody Brockman feel at ease, the new student was matched with fellow Hauser junior Yulisa Palomino, 17, in a buddy/mentor relationship.

While the daughter of Jose and Tyka Palomino has been in the Hope area schools since fifth grade, Yulisa Palomino recalled how shy and awkward she felt earlier in her childhood while attending a variety of elementary schools.

“But it’s really easy to fit in here (at Hauser),” Palomino said. “Everybody finds at least one or two social groups that they fit into.”

Although Palomino said she intends to stay by the new student’s side as long as needed, the outgoing Brown seemed more excited than intimidated by her new surroundings Wednesday.

“It’s a lot smaller school (than East), and I’m looking forward to more individual help,” Brown said.

A significant icebreaker came during her orientation period Wednesday in Rebekah Bryan’s classroom, when Brown found herself sitting next to a former classmate from Northside Middle School in Columbus.

As Brown began chatting with Michelle Bradford, who transferred to Hauser two years ago, other smiling and friendly classmates chimed in — and Brown suddenly appeared quite at ease.

“It’s a very welcoming school with people who are willing to help others get settled and do well,” Hauser teacher Becky Voyles said.

No tears

While junior high and high school first-day student counts were still being tabulated, Hope Elementary educators estimated nine more students this fall than a year ago.Due to increased enrollment, the school board voted July 27 to add a third kindergarten section to assure there would be no more than a 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Price said.

Wednesday was an exceptionally smooth start to a new school year, Hope Elementary principal Jessica Poe said.

During the first day of class, all of the corporation’s youngest students got picked up by their bus, and no tears were evident after they arrived for class.

“For an elementary school, those are really big accomplishments,” Poe said.

Tech and tests

Parents should be aware that the school district will be focused on implementing a new learning management system called Canvas this year, Hauser principal J.P. Mayer said.Canvas is designed to give parents greater visibility into their child’s learning experience, as well as provide a prompt analysis of each child’s progress to allow quick responses, Mayer said.

Price and Mayer expect Hauser scores on state-mandated tests to remain at or above the state average, but no one is sure how important statewide testing will be this year, Price said.

After low test scores and several months of delays prompted state officials to announce this would be the last year for ISTEP testing, a new panel was established to develop a new statewide test.

However, education experts have told state lawmakers it could take up to two years to develop that test.

Since ISTEP data can lag from six months to a year after the testing, Price said he advocates more frequent testing during different times of the year, so feedback can be immediately provided to drive instruction.

Stable staffing

One of the big changes this year for the school district is its staffing stability when compared to the previous two years.At the end of the 2014-15 school year, an industrial technology teacher with 18 years experience and a guidance counselor with 21 years of experience were laid off because of school corporation financial constraints.

When the 2015-16 year began a few months later, teachers were still being hired and eight of the nine FHSC administrators were either in a new position or were new to the corporation, Price said.

“We have our entire administrative team back at Hope Elementary, Hauser and the central office,” Price said. “I feel we’re running on all four cylinders again.”

Enrollment

The following statistics from the Indiana Department of Education compare enrollment for the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. over the past five years.

2011-12: 904

2012-13: 902

2013-14: 913

2014-15: 868

2015-16: 844

Upcoming school schedule

Key vacation days for the Flatrock-Hawcreek School Corp.:

Sept. 5: Labor Day

Oct. 10 to 14: Fall break

Nov. 21 to 25: Thanksgiving break

Dec. 22 to Jan. 3: Winter break

Jan. 16: Martin Luther King holiday (first snow make-up day)

March 13 to 17: Spring break

March 20 to 24: Snow make-up days

April 14: Good Friday

May 25: Last student day

SHARE
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.