Sunday, October 31, 2004

'It's a great day at Dixie' and enrollment proves it

With transfers from other areas, high school grows

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

EDGEWOOD - Dixie Heights High School is on a roll. Enrollment is up 51 students this year, despite Dixie's location in an aging area with little new home construction.

The school has 29 students who pay tuition of $600 a year to attend because they live in other districts.

In addition, 70 young people go to Dixie even though they are assigned to Simon Kenton or Scott, the other two high schools in the Kenton County system. Students are allowed to switch - free of tuition but without bus transportation - under the district's open-enrollment policy.

Dixie Principal Kim Banta is pleased. She has been working hard on customer service, she said, because she wants Dixie to be competitive with nearby Catholic schools. In that spirit, all staff people, including student aides, are required to answer the phone with, "It's a great day at Dixie!"

"It's cute, because you have days when they're looking at you like, 'I don't think this is such a great day,'" said Banta, principal since 2002. Students say Dixie has a welcoming atmosphere. About 6 percent of its population are minorities, which makes it more diverse than many suburban Catholic schools. That probably contributes to the sense of openness, said Emily Clark, who transferred last year from St. Henry District High School in Erlanger.

"Everyone at Catholic schools is just, like, the same," Emily said. At St. Henry, "Everybody knew each other's business. It was harder to fit in."

St. Henry officials say they aren't worried about losing students to Dixie. As the only Catholic high school serving parishes in Boone County, its enrollment is up, too, from 479 students last year to 525 this year.

Dixie's enrollment is 1,219. That includes 30 students who transferred this year from Scott High School alone.

Sports is one reason. Dixie's football team, for instance, finished the regular season Friday with an 8-2 record, compared to 2-8 at both Scott and Simon Kenton.

Emily Kordenbrock, a sophomore, said she transferred from Scott to Dixie in part because she plays softball, and Dixie's team was better.

But she also likes the way students are treated at Dixie, she said. Recently, she almost got an after-school suspension for something she didn't do. She went to Assistant Principal Tom Spritzky for help.

"Instead of just automatically taking the teacher's side, he actually listened to me," Emily said.

With Spritzky's support, she went back to the teachers. "They were more understanding when I told them what had happened," she said.

Spritzky is also the football coach at Dixie. His caring manner motivates the team but also helps the school as a whole, Banta said.

Kenton County allows transfers among its three high schools because students sometimes just need a fresh start, Deputy Superintendent Tim Hanner said.

In addition, they like following their middle-school friends into high school, and Kenton has several middles that feed into more than one high. Thus, groups of friends tend to end up at the same high school even if they live in different neighborhoods.

The principals at Scott and Simon Kenton said they don't mind the friendly competition. Over time, transfers tend to even out among the schools, as students follow friends or seek out specific academic opportunities.

Scott's enrollment is about the same as last year, but it jumped by about 90 students the year before that, Principal Clay Dawson said.

Simon Kenton, in fast-growing Independence, has gained about 265 students over five years.

Hanner praised the spirit of collaboration among the three high school principals, who meet regularly to share ways they can improve.

In addition, the district is looking closely at every school's sports and extracurricular programs to see where weaknesses may lie, Hanner said. The sports feeder programs at middle and elementary schools are part of that review.

"If a student is telling us they're choosing to go to this high school because of this sports program, we need to talk to them and find out why that is," Hanner said.


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