LOWER TOWNSHIP — Lower Cape May Regional School District has traditionally educated students from Lower Township, West Cape May and Cape May, but starting next year it will be taking 74 pupils from other towns in Cape May County.
The 74 students could be just the beginning as the grade 7-12 district opens to outside areas as part of the Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which allows parents to send their children to select schools outside their home district.
Lower Cape May had considered but rejected joining the program several years ago. Declining enrollment, which reduces state aid, has convinced district officials to change their mind.
Most Cape May County towns are losing population and that means fewer children to educate. Enrollment has also been declining at elementary schools in Lower Township, West Cape May and Cape May that feed the regional school. The elementary schools in all three towns have also joined the choice program.
“Our enrollment is going down and we lost $385,000 in state aid this year. We do know choice will stabilize our enrollment, and under state formulas, if enrollment is going down, you’ll lose state aid,” Superintendent Jack Pfizenmayer said.
Five years ago the district had about 1,750 students, but this year enrollment is down to about 1,550. The feeder elementary schools are boosting their enrollment with choice students, but until now those students weren’t allowed to follow their classes to seventh grade at the regional school.
Pfizenmayer said he expects many of these elementary school choice students to apply, but he noted he could get new students from the Wildwoods, Dennis Township, Woodbine and other areas within 20 miles. If the students come from that distance, the home district pays for transportation costs.
The choice students also draw new state aid, though the situation can lead to subtractions of funds the state gives the district in other aid categories. Pfizenmayer said he will spread the 74 students out in different classes so no additional teaching staff is necessary.
“We set the number at 74 students because it adds no additional cost to the district,” Pfizenmayer said.
Parents have until Nov. 2 to begin the process of switching schools to get a place at Lower Cape May Regional by the 2013-14 academic year. If there are more than 74 students interested, there will be a lottery.
The state recently added 40 more school districts to the choice program, so there is increasing competition for students. To compete, Lower Cape May Regional is preparing brochures and tours of the facilities almost like a college.
Christopher Kobik, director of curriculum and instruction, is highlighting the district recently reaching the state’s highest grade in the state monitoring process. He is also promoting academic offerings, including a large number of advanced placement and college credit courses.
The district will also push its state-of-the-art performing arts center and television media production that includes broadcasts on a local channel. The district also offers a lot of electives, including engineering, journalism, administrative assistant, culinary arts, child care, business management and law enforcement.
One course allows students to become Microsoft Office certified, which is something that Kobik said really helps in the job market. Another course called Future Educators allows students interested in becoming teachers to get college credits toward a degree. About 79 percent of graduates in the district continue their education after high school.
“This is not a shopping mall high school. Students all have an individual learning plan that obviously gets adjusted as they go through school. We really think we have a lot of pathways to offer kids to use their education to help complete their dreams and aspirations,” Kobik said.
The district will also sell prospects on extracurricular activities including athletic programs that feature the usual team sports but also some less common ones such as sailing and ice hockey.
Prospective parents will also be sold on a facility bordered by salt marshes, which are used in the science classes.
“The facilities lend themselves to hands-on learning in the natural environment,” Kobik said.
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