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El Molino High School fights declining enrollment

  • Stephanie Vajto demonstrates a dance move to her group during their Intermediate/Advanced Choreography class at El Molino High School in Forestville on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Supporters of El Molino High School in Forestville are continuing their drive to stop declining enrollment and develop a turnaround strategy to draw students to the Covey Road campus.

A community meeting Wednesday night to discuss strategies drew about 100 people to the campus library where supporters suggested creating magnet science, arts or agriculture programs, bolstering public outreach and bringing community members to campus in mentor and support functions.

“I think that one of the unique advantages that El Molino has is it's a small school that offers individualized attention and diverse career, college prep and arts programs, so a student can basically do it all in a small school environment,” said Keller McDonald, superintendent of the West Sonoma County High School District.

El Molino's declining numbers have come at a time when neighboring Analy High is twice as big and operating near capacity, in large part because of an increasing number of transfers, including students who live within El Molino's boundaries.

It has created tension between the school communities and a bit of tug-of-war over prestige and resources. Officials say there is no consideration of merging the schools.

“It's a perception thing,” McDonald said. “There are no indications, based on (Advanced Placement) exam results or SAT results ... that there is a significant difference in West County high schools. They are both among the top college prep programs in the county based on those kinds of measures.”

El Molino posted a 791 on the 2013 state Academic Performance Index, while Analy High, West Sonoma County High School District's other comprehensive campus, posted an 833. The state goal is 800.

El Molino, a four-time winner of the California Distinguished School designation, has about 604 students, down from its peak of 1,200 in 1998-99. Enrollment at Analy in downtown Sebastopol is 1,369.

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