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Hillcrest High School sees enrollment surge after district changes

MIDVALE — Corner Canyon High School, the first public high school in Draper, is scheduled to open its doors to a projected 1,823 students this fall.

Despite that opening, enrollment at nearby Hillcrest High School in Midvale is projected to jump about 800 students to 2,445 this fall, moving it from the smallest high school in the Canyons School District to the largest in a single year as well as making it one of the largest high schools in the state.

While those projections are "soft" numbers subject to change, administrators at both schools are working at a sprint pace to put everything in order before students arrive in August, said Canyons spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

"We have to be ready," Hillcrest High School Principal Susan Malone said. "It's unbelievable the list of things you have to keep checking off."

The surge at Hillcrest can be attributed to a number of factors, chief among them being a district-wide grade reconfiguration that is placing more than 600 freshman students at Hillcrest who previously attended feeder middle schools, Malone said.

In addition to that change, she said more than 500 out-of-boundary students have enrolled at Hillcrest this year under Utah's open enrollment policy. She attributes that number to Hillcrest having the district's only International Baccalaureate program, a strong performing arts department, and senior and junior students affected by boundary changes who prefer to finish out their K-12 education at a familiar school.

To manage the influx of students, an additional building on the Hillcrest campus is slated to open this fall, which will provide another 10 classrooms and two computer labs, Malone said. Thirty-one employees, both full and part time, have also been added to the school staff.

While the amount of growth Hillcrest is seeing in a single year is atypical, Malone said the size of the incoming student population is not unprecedented. Malone worked as an assistant principal at both Hillcrest High and Alta High in the 1990s prior to the opening of Jordan High School, when Alta's enrollment peaked at more than 3,000 students.

"It brings its own challenges but it also brings rewards," she said of Hillcrest's rapid growth. "We've been this large or larger before."

At Corner Canyon High School, Principal Mary Bailey said it's an exciting time for the Draper community to be on the cusp of opening a new, and the city's first, public high school. She said there are concerns that naturally arise when a previously vacant space is filled with nearly 2,000 teenagers, but by and large residents are looking forward to the spirit of community and tradition that a school creates.

"You put kids in a place that used to be a corn field and things will be a little different," she said.

Bailey compared moving into a new school to moving into a new house, in that despite your efforts at preparation, there are myriad unforseen challenges waiting to be discovered.

"We do have a beautiful building, and I think we've tried to anticipate any glitches and address them early," she said. "But I can guarantee that on the first day of school, someone's going to come into the office and say, 'Did anybody think about …?' and we'll all look at each other and say, 'We'll get right on it.'"

When asked about the disparity between enrollment at Canyons' high schools, business administrator Keith Bradford said the board is always able to look at boundaries and make additional changes. But he said part of the challenge in the first years following a boundary change is the number of students who elect to stay at their former schools to finish their education.

The district is likely to see some ebb and flow in enrollments, he said, which will eventually settle at more consistent and predictable levels.

"Going forward, we'll be in great shape once we see what's there this year," he said. "You've got to give it a year or two to set in to see where you're really at."

Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said the school boundary changes and grade reconfigurations affect residents in different ways, with some less pleased than others. But ultimately, he has confidence in the efforts of the Canyons School Board.

"It’s just a very busy time and when the dust all settles, it will all work out," he said. "We’ve got two new beautiful schools and we should appreciate it."

The opening of the city's first public high school marks the latest step in a new era of development and commercialization for the once-rural, agricultural community. Smith said Draper is not without growing pains, namely a need for increased public safety resources and traffic congestion planning, but it's exciting to watch the city develop.

"Our main focus is job growth and good economic development and still keeping it a wonderful place to live," Smith said.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said that when the Canyons School District split from the Jordan School District in in 2008, most of the population growth in the area was projected to occur in Draper. But since then, he said a new cycle of population growth has started in Sandy and in other district municipalities, which requires city leaders and school officials to work together in planning for the future.

Growth brings challenges that will need to be addressed, he said, such as potential boundary changes or construction of new schools, but overall the inflow of new residents is a positive thing for the area that local leaders are planning for.

"There's going to be more density in our city as well as the others," Dolan said. "We couldn't be more pleased in our partnership with Canyons School District. They're just terrific to work with."

In Cottonwood Heights, home to Brighton High School, Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore spoke favorably of the district's grade reconfiguration. He said the city is not a high-growth area, but schools are crowded, which will be alleviated by the steps the district has taken.

"I think the grade reconfiguration was very wise, not just from a growth perspective," he said. "It does allow better use of facilities but it’s also academically the right thing to do."

Cullimore said so far there's been no indication that the Canyons School Board was neglecting low-growth areas like Cottonwood Heights in favor of high-growth areas like Draper. He said that since the creation of the district, the relationship between school and city officials has only gotten stronger.

"They’ve already demonstrated through their capital facilities plan that they do intend to meet our needs," Cullimore said. "The plan is that everybody will benefit from this and I believe over time that will be proven accurate."


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