Sections    Thursday November 22nd, 2018
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New Academies at South Mountain’s popularity prompts enrollment cap, waitlist for freshmen


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  • Craig Pletenik/ Phoenix Union High School District

Students At The Academies At South Mountain High School. Photo Courtesy Phoenix Union High School District

The response to the new Academies at South Mountain High School has been so overwhelming that District officials are putting an enrollment cap for freshmen for the 2018-19 school year.  It is the first time in the 65-year history of the school that enrollment has been capped.

Beginning Monday, August 13, freshmen students who live in the Academies at South Mountain High School attendance boundaries will still be able to enroll, however, those freshmen living outside the boundaries will be placed on a wait-list, be encouraged to select another Phoenix Union school and wait for a call back if/when space becomes available. Those students should register at their home campus or open-enroll at another school.  Priority will be given if a student has a sibling at the school.  If a freshman is not able to enroll at the Academies at South this year, they may still be accepted as sophomores next year.

Through the first four days, the Academies at South enrollment was up 233 students from last year and well over projections.  Freshman attendance was at 700, a 152-student difference from last year.  Classes began on August 6.

The freshman enrollment cap is necessary because the Academies model only allows for 170 students per grade, per Academy, based on staffing and space available.

“Because our small schools have been so popular with students and parents alike, we knew this high school concept was going to be transformational, but we did not expect it to happen on day one.  Families are coming back to South because we are changing and challenging the old high school model and the community is responding,” Phoenix Union Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson said.

“The Academies at South Mountain is an excellent and innovative new educational model for our South Phoenix students and community. This enrollment cap ensures that South Phoenix students will continue to have access while also preserving quality teaching and learning,” Governing Board member and South alumnus Stanford Prescott said.

“Over the last three years we have worked very hard to re-design and re-think the large comprehensive high school experience,” Principal Brian Guliford said.  “Our students, their parents, and the greater South Mountain community deserve nothing but our finest effort to help our students be successful.  An increase in our enrollment is just the beginning.”

The Academies at South are designed to provide a small school experience in specialized college preparation and career readiness strands.  The four Academies are Science & Technology; Public and Social Service; Aerospace & Engineering and Media, Arts & Design.  The Academies will build upon their successful Magnet programs, and add several Career and Technical Education opportunities, such as engineering, computer science, business entrepreneurship and health sciences.

The enrollment explosion comes despite the fact that the $30 million re-modeling and construction project is still underway on the campus, which includes new facilities and temporary portable classrooms.  The school was closed much of the summer, as well.

One of the attractions of the smaller, more personalized and specialized Academies is that students will still have all the opportunities of a large comprehensive high school, from interscholastic athletics, performing and visual arts, Student Government, JROTC, and a multitude of clubs, as well as the academic, social and emotional support from counselors, social workers and other student support personnel.

As South Mountain High School, the large comprehensive school’s enrollment had dipped below 1,800 students, 2013-2016, and averaged 1,828 over the last six years.  This year’s high point enrollment projection of 2,133 has been eclipsed, and more students are expected in the next few weeks.