Proposed plan to merge the Harlem 9th grade campus back with the high school

MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WIFR) -- After seeing a decrease in enrollment over the past 10 years, Harlem district leaders propose merging the freshman campus with the high school.

"Overall, our district is looking at another decline over the next 10 years,” said Harlem School District Superintendent Dr. Julie Morris.

Dr. Morris says the district's enrollment has fallen by about 1,000 students over the past decade and the trend is supposed to continue in the next decade. The enrollment numbers have been dropping approximately 1% each year.

Dr. Morris believes it's because more families are moving out of Illinois and millennials are waiting longer to have children, affecting the size of kindergarten classes coming in.

"In the enrollment studies they look at migration rates and birth rates, so when we look at that study we're pretty certain with those numbers," said Jason Blume, the Director of Stakeholder Engagement with the Harlem School District.

The district opened its freshman campus about nine years ago because it needed more space. At that time there were 2,400 students in grades 9-12, now there's only 2,000. In a decade the high school is projected to have about 1,600 students.

District leaders believe they should close the freshman campus and move those 400 students to the high school now that there is more room.

"When looking at the enrollment projection, the financial impact, the programming and what's best for our student’s impact, that's where we came to our recommendation," said Dr. Morris.

The district says the move would save $900,000 a year which they would be able to utilize in other aspects of their district.

"What we've seen is that some of the students have missed out on some things and we've seen that our participation in clubs and organizations and extracurriculars is less at the freshman level because of that travel and having to move from building to building,” said Blume.

Some students take classes at the high school that isn’t offered at the freshman campus so there is lost instructional time while traveling back and forth. District leaders say freshman would have more opportunities at the high school like having access to more electives.

"We really feel like our freshmen are now going to be part of that main high school experience and just those day to day events that occur. Now all those kids will be together to experience that as one high school."

Right now, Harlem students change buildings five times during their school career.

"If we can minimize that transition for our students the impact is much less on them, trying to redo everything again at another place and a new routine, new relationships and so forth," said Dr. Morris.

If approved the merge would begin with the 2019-20 school year. District leaders say it is still to be determined what they will do with the freshman campus.

"We will continue to answer questions, we will work through anything that comes up that we need to consider and the school board will listen to every angle from it and we will make a decision based on that," said Dr. Morris.

The administration will make its recommendation to the school board Monday evening. They will ask for board approval on February 12th.

For more information about the proposal see the related link.