Jeffco numbers down; DPS, Dougco up

Jefferson County Public Schools announced a slight decline in enrollment numbers Monday, continuing the gradual student decrease in the state’s largest school district in the past ten years.

The state’s second and third largest districts – Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District, respectively – released enrollment figures showing growth this fall. In fact, DPS, which lagged Jeffco by 15,000 students ten years ago, is now within 4,500 pupils of the “state’s largest” title.

In Jeffco, a sprawling district that ranges from urban areas such as Lakewood to mountain towns like Evergreen, fall student counts have bobbed up and down since 2002. But the overall trend is down, from 88,000 to 86,000, or about 2 percent in the past decade.

“We definitely have pockets of growth,” said Cheryl Humann, Jeffco’s executive director of planning and construction, pointing to housing developments going up in north Arvada and near C470 and Red Rocks.

But she doesn’t anticipate those families will begin moving in and showing up in Jeffco schools for another few years. Her staff will crunch the enrollment data, combined with other factors such as birth rates and building permits, and release a five-year forecast in December.

Enrollment changes

Jefferson County Public Schools
  • 2002 – 87,925 students
  • 2011 – 85,796 students

Denver Public Schools

  • 2002 – 71,972 students
  • 2011 – 81,438 students

Douglas County School District

  • 2002 – 40,511 students
  • 2011 – 63,115 students

She expects the forecast will continue to show flat enrollment.

“Even though areas are being developed, it typically takes awhile for those to take hold and to get kids out of them,” Humann said.

Jeffco is otherwise largely landlocked and home to an aging population, with seniors following a trend of staying in their own homes longer, she said.

Other indicators that might shape school enrollment have remained fairly steady, including the percentage of live births that show up five years later in elementary schools.

Jeffco also appears to be a net winner in the choice game. Last school year, for example, 3,424 students left to attend schools outside district boundaries. But another 5,411 pupils from other districts choiced into Jeffco, for a net gain of 1,987 students.

Overall, Jeffco reported 85,796 students enrolled this fall, a decline of 176 students from fall 2010. Last year’s decline was 310 students. In 2002, Jeffco reported 87,925 students.

Several grades did post a bump this year, including 283 students in grade 3 and 211 students in grade 12. Grade-level bumps in the early years tend to follow bumps in birth rates. Humann credited the district’s dropout prevention program for the jump in high school seniors.

Denver’s enrollment count this fall is 81,438, marking the first time the district has surpassed the 80,000 mark since 1974. District officials say the bulk of the growth is in preschool through grade 5. Ten years ago, in fall 2002, DPS reported enrollment of 71,972.

But even that 9,466-student gain from 2002-2011 in Denver pales in comparison to Douglas County’s growth during that time period. In 2002, the affluent district south of Denver listed enrollment of 40,511. This fall, its student count is 63,115 – an increase of more than 22,000 students.

Dougco’s rate of growth has slowed in recent years. This year’s figure is about 1,500 more than last year.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede