Transfers limited at popular Bend High

Even twins may choose different schools to find the right fit

By Kailey Fisicaro, The Bulletin, @kaileyfisicaro

In a district open to transfers between schools, Bend High School gets a big influx of students each year from outside its neighborhood. The hallways at the school, which has about 1,700 students, can get packed, especially when it’s time for them to change classes.

Bend High School, located centrally in the city, is destined to grow even more.

It’s so attractive that 180 in-district transfer requests have been approved for next school year. But in-district departures from the high school will temper that influx, leaving only 133 new faces on campus. And that doesn’t count incoming freshmen already living in the neighborhood, new kids moving into the Bend High school zone or transfers from other school districts.

To help combat overcrowding next year, Bend-La Pine Schools has limited the kind of transfers that can take place at Bend High School.

In-district transfers are called “area change requests” because families are requesting their child be allowed to attend a school in a different area, or neighborhood, than the one where they live.

Area change requests at the high school level aren’t uncommon, especially for students wanting to switch from Summit to Bend High, which boasts an International Baccalaureate program.

Area change requests to Bend High School for next school year were limited to incoming juniors who are willing to commit to the full IB program and to incoming freshmen. Many students choose to transfer to Bend High because of its IB courses, but a lot of students who take IB classes don’t do the full IB diploma.

The transfer restrictions come at a time when the 18,000-student school district is experiencing great growth.

Although the district predicted it would get 350 new students in the 2016-17 school year, it actually got 500.

A proposed $268.3 million school bond will go before voters in May, in part to help meet growth needs. Included in the plan for potential bond money is a new elementary school and a new high school.

According to the district’s numbers for next school year, Bend High will be the only high school getting more transfers in than transferring out. The largest number of students — 124 — will come from Summit High School. By comparison, 17 students will transfer from Bend High to Summit.

The transfer numbers are much lower, but similarly unbalanced, between Bend High and Mountain View as well as Bend High and La Pine High.

Deputy Superintendent Jay Mathisen said there are a number of reasons the school district decided not to stop all transfers to Bend High School. Among them, the district values giving choices to families, and preventing all transfers into Bend High could mean overcrowding at other high schools. If the 124 transfers from Summit to Bend High were prevented, those students would stay at Summit.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful and balance choice with physical capacity in schools,” Mathisen said. “We just didn’t want to shut off all transfers to Bend High.”

While the four high schools in Bend-La Pine were all built to accommodate about 1,500 students, Bend High has had some buildings added since its original construction in 1955 that adds classroom space for more than that.

Regardless, Mathisen said, all of the district’s high schools will be at or over capacity for the next few years until it can build another high school. The district’s alternative school, Marshall High, doesn’t have an attendance area. It has the smallest number of students of any of the high schools.

Mathisen said none of the transfers to Bend High for the 2017-18 school year are incoming juniors who committed to the IB diploma. Were a student to agree to that, the district would track to make sure the student signed up for the right number of IB classes each year. Students who fail to do that would end up back at their neighborhood school.

A handful of transfer requests came in from students who aren’t incoming freshmen and didn’t agree to a full IB diploma, but those won’t be granted, Mathisen said.

In a district with four main high schools, it’s inevitable that each will have its own reputation and that certain schools fit students’ personalities better than others, Mathisen said. While many transfer into Bend High to complete IB, other students sometimes transfer to Summit because of its sports teams, although its academic offerings are robust too.

Sometimes, siblings may end up choosing different schools. For the Callicott family, which lives in the Summit attendance area, its twins are at two high schools: Dakota at Bend High and his sister Genna at Summit.

Their mom, Chelsea Callicott, said keeping up with events and deadlines at two high schools requires a lot of attention and shuttling the teens is an ordeal — she belongs to multiple carpools — but in her kids’ sophomore year of high school, her family doesn’t regret the choice.

“It’s totally worth it,” Callicott said. “It’s a lot to keep with but they’re both thriving, which is what you want.”

And being split up isn’t new territory for the twins. They have been in separate classes since the second grade, Callicott said. The siblings are different and their school choices reflect that. Getting to have their own lives in their respective schools has strengthened their relationship, she added.

Genna identifies strongly as an academic athlete, Callicott explained.

“In particular, she was drawn to Summit because of their strong soccer team,” Callicott said, adding Genna also runs track.

“I feel like Summit is a really good place for students that have both sides strong,” Callicott said of her daughter’s interest in both sports and academics. Her daughter is enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.

Callicott’s daughter also transferred from REALMS (Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School) to Cascade Middle School in eighth grade. There was a lot of crossover from Cascade Middle to Summit High, so Genna was joining many friends in attending Summit.

Callicott’s son, Dakota, went to REALMS for sixth through eighth grade, and benefited from the nontraditional, hands-on learning style there.

“He liked working with others, and socially it felt right for him,” Callicott said.

When it came time for high school, a lot of students from REALMS were going to Bend High, Callicott said. For her son to transition into the IB program there seemed like the right fit, since, similar to expeditionary learning at REALMS, IB courses at Bend High aren’t traditional textbook learning. Dakota is taking pre-IB classes now and is signing up for IB courses next year.

Callicott said it also worked well for Dakota to attend Bend High because he was able to start water polo in his freshman year. It’s rare for students to be able to start new sports in high school, Callicott pointed out.

Mostly, she’s just glad her kids each found the right high school.

“We’re really fortunate to have such great educational options in Bend,” Callicott said.

Until Genna and Dakota can drive, the hectic carpool schedule will continue. But there’s hope on the horizon: The twins turned 16 on Thursday. Now they can get driver’s licenses.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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