Up 17 percent over 2011-12

By Will Grandbois

Sopris Sun Correspondent

With the October count tallied and reviewed, enrollment at Roaring Fork High School is at an all time high of 335 students, according to school district officials.

That’s up 8 percent from last year and up 17 percent from the decade low of 290 in 2011-12. It also marks the first time since 2007 that the incoming class at the high school exceed the combined exiting classes of Carbondale Middle and Carbondale Community School.

The figures suggest the school might be regaining momentum as a choice for students and their parents, and also has immediate implications for academic funding.

“I hope this is an upward spiral, RFHS Principal Drew Adams told The Sopris Sun. “I think for the size of enrollment and FTE, we’ve put together a phenomenal program. The offerings are on par with some of the bigger schools.”

FTE (full time equivalent) is a key number for determining how many teachers a school is allotted; the number of students in the October count determines how many full or part time employees the state will pay for.

For the past 10 years, the FTE number has remained fairly steady, leaving the school in a sort of uneasy equilibrium. With no restriction on which district schools students can attend, many Carbondale kids opt for alternatives. For example, in 2005, a total of 102 students continued on from Carbondale Middle and Carbondale Community schools, but only 81 enrolled at Roaring Fork in the fall.

Specialized offerings such as Aspen’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, CRMS’s outdoor education, and Bridges’ alternative format seem unlikely candidates for the 21-student discrepancy in 2005, with fairly constant enrollment from around the valley. In particular, according to Adams, students from Ross Montessori and the Waldorf school tend to opt for Glenwood High School, which with 804 students accounts for about half the district’s high schoolers. Meanwhile, despite a fairly similar program in terms of scale and content, Basalt High School enrollment peaked at around the same time Roaring Fork’s was lowest, suggesting a fair amount of competition from that direction.

Potentially misguided

Roaring Fork High School’s unique demographics is a common, but potentially misguided, explanation for why Carbondale students opt for other schools. Although RFHS is consistently competitive in standardized testing for students for whom English is a first language, results may be lower for non-native speakers because the tests are administered in English. This can produce misleading scores for schools with many recent immigrants. This fails to explain the recent resurgence in enrollment, however, as the ratio between Anglos and Latinos has held fairly steady at about 45 percent to 55 percent respectively over the past five years.

The Sopris Sun asked principal Adams about the increased enrollment figures during his first two years at the school. He observed that many of the new students who enrolled in August were entirely new to the district. The RE-1 School District as a whole saw an uptick in population when RE-2 School District (Rifle) went to a four day school week last year. Notably, the numbers are not simply the result of a large incoming class at Roaring Fork — the school has a fairly typical distribution of 101 freshman, 90 sophomores, 83 juniors, and 66 seniors. The trend, therefore, seems to have been in the works for a while.

There is a long list of programs that might be attracting students back to Roaring Fork. There are 53 students currently enrolled in University of Colorado or Colorado Mountain College classes, and the school offers several Advanced Placement courses, which Adams said offer a strong college credit return compared to Aspen’s IB program.

The Roaring Fork High School has also capitalized on its multilingual base, offering advanced Spanish courses for both native and non-native speakers; it’s Rams Unidos organization also provides multicultural programming for students. Roaring Fork also has a thriving speech team, Energy Club, World Activist Club, and a host of sports teams, plus an an outdoor education buddy program that utilizes faculty from CRMS.

Adams has worked to improve Roaring Fork’s reputation and to make it possible for the school to retain both students and teachers.

“I ask parents what they hear in the community and what myths I need to dispel,” he said. “I think we’re slowly combating the issue.”

For faculty, a big problem is often the cost of living. “I actually found housing for several of them,” Adams noted.

The Roaring Fork High School still has a lot of room to grow. The capacity of the current building is 400 and the design allows for expansions that would push that number as high as 800.