Part 1: The Problem
Investigating how declining student enrollment at MVHS has affected course allocation
April 1, 2021
For many years, declining enrollment has been a trend at MVHS and across most of FUHSD. An enrollment projection report written by Thomas R. Williams, the Principal Demographer for Enrollment Projection Consultants, projected MVHS would lose 102 students in the 2021-22 school year.
According to Williams, this annual pattern of declining enrollment can be attributed to two major factors: the high housing prices in the Bay Area and recent modifications to the interior designs of homes. Housing in the Bay Area is now more suitable for young tech employees; this consists of various studios and one-bedroom units. These factors lead to fewer families with children settling in, which decreases the number of students who attend FUHSD schools.
Additionally, assistant principal Michael Martinez points to trends of declining birth rates as another reason for declining enrollment. From the 2020-2021 school year alone, student enrollment has even dropped at the kindergarten grade level. By the time those students become high schoolers, Martinez projects that the student population will have dropped even further. Williams predicts the MVHS student population will be around 1,855 students by 2022-23 (two years later) and 1,619 students by 2025-26 (five years later).
With a dwindling population of students at MVHS, FUHSD school administrations are forced to cut sections of courses, or different sessions of the same course, for future school years, as the criteria for expected student to teacher ratios have not been met.
If section cuts continue to occur, classes with fewer sections would be at risk of being permanently removed from the MVHS course list. Martinez reassures that no entire classes have been cut so far in recent years.
According to the MVHS 2020-21 course allocation, from 2019 to 2020, MVHS administration cut a total of 34 sections from the 394 sections a year prior. Due to declining enrollment, classes have steadily been losing sections year after year. From the current 2020-2021 school year with a total of 360 sections, each year is predicted to lose around 25 sections every year projecting 335 sections for the 2021-22 school year and 310 sections for the 2022-23 school year.
Since the quantity of sections per course depends on the amount of student interest for each course, the number of sections offered for a certain class varies annually. However, according to Martinez, STEM classes typically remain popular choices. Thus, the risk of them being completely cut is much lower.
Nonetheless, all sections, including science and math classes, face the almost same number of section cuts every year. Though, popular courses such as Java and AP Biology will not face as large of an impact when sections are cut. Classes that are less popular, such as AVID and Drama, tend to face more risk when their sections are removed as they originally had fewer sections available.
Ceramics and Photography teacher Jodi Johnson states that when she first started teaching at MVHS 16 years ago, there were five art teachers who each taught five sections for a total of 25 art sections. Now, there are three art teachers who each teach five sections, which is a sharp decline in total art sections offered covering around 10 different art forms.
To promote the different courses offered at MVHS, an annual course selection night and course info fair occurs in February. This year, due to COVID-19, these sessions were shifted online via Zoom and YouTube to reach as many students and families as possible. In order to learn about specific classes, students had the opportunity to visit teachers through Zoom and the information about all classes was listed on a spreadsheet. Sophomore Tulasi Janjanam believes that attending these webinars was a huge asset to her course selection.
“Since there were a lot of courses and a lot of options, I had to go through all of them, look at what I needed and the course info fair really helped because I got to talk to the teachers and [knew how the class] is actually going to work,” Janjanam said. “The positive thing is some of them, there weren’t a lot of people. So me and the teacher had a one on one and they actually showed me what was gonna happen next year [and] what [a] class was about.”
Unlike Jananam, who was able to receive guidance from teachers from different subjects over the Zoom course info fair, senior Sawyer Day felt as though these information sessions were not as helpful throughout his time at MVHS.
“I feel like the [teachers] still don’t give you that much information on how rigorous the courses are going to be,” Day said. “They give the general idea of the content covered, but you can’t really know exactly how it’s going to be until you take it. It’s much different throughout the year. They give an estimation, but it’s not consistent [for] the entire year. So I generally just ended up taking [the courses] I was recommended by my friends, peers or my older [siblings].”
Day found it difficult to choose his STEM and English classes because he wanted to maintain an academically rigorous course schedule next year, but did not feel prepared. Although Day took 3D Design primarily as a way to receive his art credits, he says taking an art class junior year helped relieve stress.
Johnson notes that art allows students a place to learn not only art skills but many life skills as well. She emphasizes how art courses can provide freedom of creativity, which is something STEM classes may not necessarily provide.
“It’s [a] fun environment, it is loose, you get to express a different part of your brain that doesn’t work all day and it’s nice to also have that creative release in your day,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to have that kind of stress break and you get to talk with your tablemates, and you’re still doing something that is mindful and engaging, but in a totally different way. You’re getting a lot of problem solving skills and critical thinking, and it’s also really good for self discovery and you tend to learn more about yourself through some projects.”