PERRY TOWNSHIP -- Three generations had graduated from Perry High School, and the fourth was going to no matter where Brian and Michelle Cox lived.
The Shawnee Township couple have open enrollment to thank for making it fairly easy for their children to enroll in their alma mater.
"Some who open enroll want smaller classes and more personal attention," Michelle Cox said. "But for us, Perry is home for us. It is what we have always known. We did not want our kids going anywhere else."
Perry has long attracted pupils through open enrollment, which allows families to apply to public schools other than the one they live in. Getting in largely depends on space.
According to a report on student mobility released last week, Perry had the largest percentage in the state of open enrolled pupils in the 2010-11 school year. Community Research Partners and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed Ohio student records over two school years.
Of the 882 students enrolled in Perry in 2010-11, 395, or 44.8 percent, were open enrolled. Lincolnview schools in Van Wert County landed in the 14th spot with 246, or 28.1 percent being open enrolled.
"At one time we had 900 regular students," Perry Superintendent Omer Schroeder said. "Our district has become smaller and smaller and it is no secret that open enrollment is our lifeblood."
The report looked at district and building stability, specifically the number and percent of pupils enrolled in October 2009, who remained continuously enrolled through May, 2011. When analyzing kindergarten through seventh-grade rates among districts deemed high economic disadvantaged, Perry had the fifth highest stability rate, 82.7 percent, in the state.
"I think anyone who has ever had anything to do with Perry knows we are very close-knit and very accepting of other students," Schroeder said. "We get along, we work together, we care for each other. Each child is important out here."
Elementary school Principal Kelly Schooler said the stability is related to the district's high open-enrollment numbers. It is not an easy process to open enroll and then to make sure a child gets to school every day, she said.
"If you are choosing to come here, you are making a commitment. It is a choice and an effort," she said, adding that multiple generations of Perry graduates such as the Cox family are not uncommon.
Among all districts, St. Henry had the highest stability rate in the state, with Marion, Fort Recovery, Coldwater, Fort Loramie, New Bremen, Kalida and Miller City-New Cleveland all landing in the top 10. No schools in the region ended up among the worst in the state.
Lima schools stability rates range from 75.6 percent at Heritage Elementary to 53.7 percent at Liberty Elementary. The data is from before last year's district restructuring that moved the arts magnet program from Heritage to Liberty.
"There are a lot of factors," Superintendent Jill Ackerman said. "Many times kids that are mobile are really mobile. They typically move multiple times. They have been in multiple places and they have a history of a different school every year."
The report also looks at churn, pupils moving in and out in a single school year. Churn rates locally are especially high among alternative schools and online community schools. The lowest churn rates, which fall below 2 percent, belong to Fort Jennings High School, Kalida Elementary, Miller City-New Cleveland High and Middle schools, Glandorf Elementary and Minster Middle School.
Lima faces some of the biggest challenges when it comes to churn. School building 2010-11 rates range from 16.6 percent at Heritage and 40.1 percent at Liberty.
Some of the district's churn issues have been curtailed by establishing two middle school buildings, one for fifth- and sixth-graders and the other for seventh- and eighth-graders. Ackerman remembers a time when a family might get mad at one of the three middle schools, so move a child to another and then maybe even the other in one school year.
"Fewer buildings make for less movement," she said.
The district also has fewer elementary schools than several years ago.
Mobility both within a school year and between years is up in recent years largely because of the economy, Elida Superintendent Don Diglia said.
"You have a big increase in the number of folks who are either homeless or have to move back in with parents or relatives because of the economy, losing jobs and homes," he said.
Lima is seeing more pupils than ever coming from out of state, Ackerman said. They are being sent to live with relatives here because of economics or because the pupil had trouble where he or she was living.
Movement poses challenges for pupils and schools.
"It is very difficult as an educator and principal to deal with mobility issues because kids need the stability and they need it in their education and they need it socially and emotionally," Ackerman said.
Lima teachers get a 24-hour warning today before a new pupil arrives. It helps them prepare, Ackerman said. Previously a pupil could show up in a classroom unannounced.
"We also really try to educate parents on the detrimental effects it can have on a kid," she said.
Schooler said Perry's academic success attracts and keeps pupils. The district has been either excellent or effective on the state report card since 2009. It performs in the top 18 percent of high-poverty schools.
Mobility is just a fact all districts must accept, Schroeder said. His district asks a lot of questions and attempts to get a handle on where pupils are academically.
"We are all faced with mobility. It is basically what do you do about it," he said. "We make sure when they come into our school that we know where they are academically. That is a big thing we started years ago so we can take off educationally with them right away."
Pupils often need some individualized attention to catch up and understand where they are in certain subjects, Diglia said, but that takes time. Taking that time is even tougher today as class sizes are increasing.
"The more kids you have moving in and out of the district, the more work it is on the teacher," he said.
The mobility is tough on class scheduling too, Diglia said. High school scheduling begins in the spring, but it is not unusual for the numbers to change by fall. Adding and dropping a course isn't simple for a school, and that change often impacts the rest of a students' schedule.
Perry advertises to attract open enrollment pupils, but Schroeder said it does about half of what it used to. There is no need, he said, with waiting lists every year. Oftentimes families want to live within the district, Schooler said, but cannot find property. The Cox family rented in the district when their eldest started kindergarten, but later could not find property to purchase.
Perry gets its largest number of pupils from Lima schools. In 2011, it was 314. The move represents the ninth largest in the state.
Lima ranks 27th in the state in the percentage of pupils open enrolling elsewhere, 15.2 percent. Vanlue is third in the state at 22 percent, followed by Lincolnview at 17 percent and Upper Scioto Valley schools at 15 percent. Van Wert falls just below Lima with 14.8 percent.
Ackerman cites busing as one reason the district loses to Perry. Pupils sometimes qualify for busing at Perry, but not Lima. Some left because of Lima's uniform policy, or athletics. Others, Ackerman said, think a rural school is safer.
"We could probably be better in marketing," she said. "People say we don't sell ourselves enough. Getting people to physically come in and look at what is here would be a bonus for us."
Ackerman said Lima does attract pupils from other districts with things such as its magnet programs and advanced-placement and enrichment opportunities.
Elida's open enrollment is at 11 percent, but the district brings in just as many if not more each year. This year, 265 came into the district while 250 left, a big difference than a few years ago, such as in 2007-08 when 126 came in and 238 left. That speaks well for the district, Diglia said.
"We have a pretty decent reputation for what we are able to offer kids," he said, adding that he had to stop accepting applications this past June and turn away more than 80 applicants.
"We are flattered people want to come to our district. It's too bad we don't have more room." ___
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