New off-island students are welcome in the high school
By Isabella Crayton, Co-Copy Editor
High school students are traditionally notorious for their habit of spreading gossip. Lately, rumors have been swirling in regards to the topic of the school district’s acceptance of new off-island students, most notably speculation surrounding extra recruitment efforts for off-island students, talk of additional and previous commuters being shut out of the school, and even the ferry system not being able to handle an increase in commuter students.
According to high school principal Danny Rock, none of these rumors are true.
“Would we like more commuters? Yes, actually, we would like more commuters next year,” Rock said. “Can we handle them in the middle school years? Not really. But we can handle them in the high school.”
The rumors of increasing or decreasing off-island recruitment has a suspected origin. In 2009, rates of resident island students were dropping. The district turned to off-island recruitment in order for the school to maintain its courses and staffing, since schools get increased funding based on student population.
In 2017, resident student enrollment increased. As island residents cannot be turned away, the enrollment rate of commuters was slowed in order to keep the student population size small enough to fit the building and class sizes.
“We actually wanted to get smaller, so we started slowly admitting fewer students as commuters starting in 2017. We didn’t stop allowing students who had been enrolled to continue … We started it at the point of entry where they come into the district, and most students who are commuters come into this district at sixth and seventh grade,” said Rock.
The rumor about ferry capacity also comes from past events.
“There was a point at which 250 kids on the ferry — 90 of them being middle schoolers — was starting to become a problem; that occurred two years ago,” Rock said. “It really was because the ferries were not changing any of their staffing in response to this population.”
At this time, student behavior on the boats became an issue.
“There were kids doing really bad things, and being really disrespectful and disruptive — all kinds of stuff,” Rock said.
Since then, student commuter regulations and rules have changed within the boat, and the issue is no longer relevant. Students are more limited to one end of the boat and supervised, as opposed to being treated as regular passengers.
“About a year-and-a-half or two years ago, they started staffing their boats differently,” Rock said. “They have taken charge on how students commute … I haven’t had a ferry discipline issue in a year-and-a-half and I used to get them once a month or so.”
In fact, there is no current issue with or limit on student enrollment.
“We actually have room [at the high school], because it’s natural for 11th and 12th grade to become smaller with running start numbers, and just with moving … and alternative programs like student-link,” Rock said.
Commuter students are often welcome additions to a school environment. Because the school chooses whether or not to take in a commuter, unlike residents, the school can turn away those who do not meet behavior expectations.
“Commuters are really good additions to our school community,” Rock said. “They are overwhelmingly engaged in school, they want to be here, they’re choosing to be here, [and] they’re making a pretty significant commitment to be[ing] here by taking on an hour-and-a-half of commuting every day.”
The only obvious downside to a high commuter rate is a lower participation in sports.
“Because that commute deters them from activities, even though we’re a big school, we don’t have very many students who participate in athletics for a school our size, and commuters are disproportionately not represented on athletics and activities,” Rock said.
At this point in time, there is no abnormality or issue with commuting students, and due to projected budget cuts in the coming year, an influx of students would be welcome to the school.
“I’m really grateful that we have our commuter students here,” Rock said. “We will be admitting as many commuters next year — who meet the criteria — as possible.”