Would a larger variety of educational options increase Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) enrollment numbers? According to current projected enrollment numbers, WAPS attracts 65 percent of the school district’s potential students. Private or religious schools and home schooling account for another 20 percent of students who live within the district's boundaries, and charter schools and open enrollment account for the other 15 percent. These are tentative numbers for the 2013-2014 school year; final numbers will be determined after the school year begins, said
Dan Pyan, fiscal affairs director for WAPS.
Over recent years, enrollment at WAPS has declined significantly. Part of this is related to the birth rate in Winona, which has also seen a steady decline in recent years. The advent of charter schools has also drawn from the pool of potential WAPS students. Charter schools are publicly funded, but are run separately from public schools. These charter schools give parents more options when deciding where their children will receive their education.
Can WAPS do more to attract the students and families in the district who currently choose other education options?
According to Jeanne Nelson, School Board member, if WAPS added more programming and options for potential students, the quality of the students’ education would improve. Nelson previously supported the creation of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) school at Jefferson Elementary and is currently advocating for language immersion and preschool expansion in the district.
The idea of language immersion would require bilingual teachers in K-4 grades for at least one section of classes. This would give parents the option of enrolling their children in a language immersion curriculum. “There is value in choice in this day and age,” Nelson noted. “The primary reason for this is quality education.”
Nelson also believes preschool expansion is necessary, and would provide a starting point for children in the district. It’s not just about day care; it’s about the teaching and the learning throughout the day, she added.
The STEM school has been a positive improvement according to Nelson, moving WAPS in the right direction when it comes to educational options. Nelson hopes the inquiry method of hands-on learning and asking questions will eventually expand to more WAPS schools.
One other improvement Nelson believes would benefit education is further collaboration between the district and continuing education leaders. The option to take AP classes and earn university credits increases students participation in deciding their future.
Nelson noted that teachers, administrations, school boards, and universities need to work together to offer children a quality education. “It’s not what teachers teach; it’s what the students are learning.”
These changes, the ones that have been made, and possible future changes have the potential of making WAPS attractive to everyone, Nelson added. “If it attracts others in addition, well, that’s just a plus.”