PENDLETON 
As school district loses students at steady pace,
administrators try to understand, break trend

The PHS student section performs a cheer before the start of the Bucks' football game against La Grande in September in Pendleton.

The Pendleton School District is losing more students than it’s taking in, and in many instances, there’s little the district can do about it.

On Monday, district staff presented the Pendleton School Board with a “mobility report,” a set of data that showed how many children enrolled in the district in a school year versus how many left. It also included information about why students left.

The report shows that out of the 266 students who dropped out of the district over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, 57 percent moved out of town.

Another 21 percent unenrolled automatically because they missed 10 straight days of school and 12 percent transferred to another school district. Much smaller percentages graduated early, entered a treatment program, started home school, went through an expulsion or left for an extended vacation before the last day of school.

The figures for total new enrollment appear to show the district making up for lost students with some new ones, but an overall drop in students is backed up by the district’s enrollment reports.

The 2,973 students enrolled in June was a 27-student decrease compared to June 2017 and a 220-student fall from five years ago.

While the district continues to collect more data that shows Pendleton’s youth population is falling, the solutions are largely out of their hands. Matt Yoshioka, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the top three reasons families give for leaving the district are a lack of housing, a lack of living-wage jobs, or a desire to be closer to family.

Besides supporting the city’s initiatives on developing more housing and job creation, addressing these issues are outside the district’s scope.

Yoshioka said the district is trying to zero in on the second largest contributor to declining enrollment — students that are automatically dropped from the district after missing 10 straight days of school for any reason.

While only 4 percent of K-5 students were dropped due to lack of attendance, 35 percent of students in grades 6-12 left school for that reason.

Yoshioka said he spoke with middle school and high school counselors about the data. The counselors had no trouble identifying those 52 students.

“Every one of those students had a story,” he said.

Many of these students stop attending school because of problems in their home lives, requiring the district to try and direct mental health resources and social services toward the student.

While students often reappear after the district sends out a notice of a 10-day drop, some students re-enroll three to six times per year.

Yoshioka said the district is now identifying those types of children as “students of concern.” Staff hold meetings on these students twice a month to make sure they’re staying on track.

Although the data didn’t deliver positive news for Pendleton’s falling enrollment concerns, Yoshioka said the district will continue to track the data, using 2017-2018 a baseline in the years to come.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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