The red plan migration begins

Central High School won't close under the Duluth school district's long-range building plan until 2011, but it seems some students already are choosing to go elsewhere.

Matt McGregor (left) gives Ryan Watson a high-five as he comes off the field during the Central freshman football team's game against Proctor on Thursday. In the background are Jacob Endres and Nick Miller. Central won the game 28-6. The Central freshman team has fewer players this year as transfers increase. [AMANDA HANSMEYER / NEWS TRIBUNE]

Central High School won't close under the Duluth school district's long-range building plan until 2011, but it seems some students already are choosing to go elsewhere.

For the first time in years, a high school in the district -- East -- has seen a bump in enrollment, and administrators mostly attribute it to families making early adjustments to red plan changes coming down the pike.

East High School's enrollment was up by 24 students this year, predominantly because of transfers from ninth-graders living in the Central attendance area. Central saw an increase in its enrollment at other grade levels.

"This is the first group of freshmen that will not have the opportunity to graduate from Central High School; some of them seem to be looking at that and making a choice that it makes more sense long-term for them to go someplace else," said Joe Hill, assistant superintendent for the Duluth school district.

For now, most of those students seem to be going to East, leaving East with some cramped classrooms and Central with a couple of numbers problems.


Central's freshman football team, for example, only had 23 players sign up this year and only 16 who showed up at the last practice.

"Ideally, you would want 30 to 40 kids on a team," said Chris Vold, the football coach at Central. "You need 22 kids to play offense and defense, and then you want some extras in case someone gets sick, goes out of town."

The issue led Central to cancel its annual fall scrimmage with East.

"There is a considerable amount of kids that transferred over there that should be on our team," Vold said. "To have our kids line up and look at the kids that should be playing for us across the field was just a difficult thing to swallow."

Shawn Roed, the activities director at East, said East's freshman football team, which has about 32 kids, is not significantly smaller or larger than it has been in the past.

"We made the decision that was best for kids and moved on; now it's kind of a done deal," Roed said about the cancellation.

Lisa Mitchell-Krocak, the principal at Central, said lower numbers forced the school to combine a freshman Honors American History class with an Honors English class.

Transferring between the district's three high schools has been common in recent years. More students transferred from Central to East last year than so far this year -- 54 compared to 51 -- but the difference is the emerging pattern in reasons families are giving for the move, Hill said. He added that transfers seem to be spiking for sixth-graders this year, indicating students entering middle school also are making adjustments.


"I would interpret that as families looking at their long-range future and wanting their children to begin at the school where they will complete their program," Hill said.

Despite the dip in ninth-graders at Central, numbers at the school still are solid. Central lost 22 students this year compared to 68 at Denfeld, though Denfeld's overall enrollment is higher.

"Central High School holds a special spirit," Hill said. "There is a quality of program there that students recognize and makes them want to be a part of the Trojan experience."

Still, he acknowledged that as the official close date for Central creeps closer, the school might be faced with more transfers.

"There needs to be a certain number threshold to maintain quality programs and justify specialty courses at a school," he said. "That may be a challenge the district will have to face down the road."

At this point, more students seem to be moving to East than Denfeld.

"We're seeing quite a bit more traffic going east than west -- and that's something we'll want to continue to monitor -- but at this point it's too soon to speculate what that's about," Hill said. "These are not normal times for this district. ... The important thing is to keep an understanding that we have to go about this together. We don't want to do this in a competitive nature."

SARAH HORNER covers K-12 education. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5342 or by e-mail at .

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