Starting next year, fewer Longview students will be allowed to transfer to a high school outside their attendance boundary, as the district attempts to even out enrollment and the socio-economic disparities between R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools.

"Over the past couple of years we've gotten significantly out of balance between the two schools," said Chris Fritsch, Longview's director of leadership and learning, of enrollment. "It should be almost a 50-50 split right now."

The harder line against transfers went into effect last year at Longview elementary and middle schools, but it's particularly needed now to even out disparities in the high schools, Fritsch said.

Enrollment at Mark Morris is now 20 percent higher — 193 students — than at R.A. Long, according to district figures. The biggest discrepancy is among the freshman class, with enrollment at Mark Morris topping R.A. Long by nearly 50 percent.

Restricting transfers is important for maintaining an academic and socio-economic balance between the two high schools, Fritsch said. Longview has long struggled with its image for R.A. Long High School, which was dubbed a "drop out factory" by a 2007 Johns Hopkins University study and has a 10 percent higher number of poor students than Mark Morris.

R.A. Long senior Hannah Morgan, 17, said she supports stricter attendance boundary enforcement. It's unfair, she said, for students to want to transfer out of the school for the sake of being with friends or because they perceive R.A. Long as having a drop-out problem.

"People transfer a lot of the times because they have an image of R.A. Long as something bad or they want to be with their friends, and they don't get to realize how cool R.A. Long is," she said.

R.A. Long junior Bill Davenport, 16, said he supports open enrollment but agrees that "there needs to be some balance between enrollment at each school ...

"I don't think R.A. Long is a ghetto school," he added. " I think that (image) is slowly going away. Other than rivalry games people will say that, but it's not something you see in the community very much or hear about."

Mark Morris freshman Odessa Henderson, 15, said she lives in the R.A. Long attendance area but was granted a transfer request. She said the district should remain flexible because "some students may not want to go to the school they live by. This is where all my friends are."

Odessa's friend Samantha Van, a Mark Morris senior, agreed.

"I think, honestly, they should be able to go where they want. You can't make someone go where they don't want to go (and still be successful at school)," said Van, 18.

Without district oversight, the potential existed for one school to accept a majority of the top scholars without realizing they are hurting the other school, said Fritsch, a former Mark Morris principal and R.A. Long alumnus. As principal, he said, he attempted to keep high-performing students at both schools, despite a lack of oversight.

A policy enforcing school boundaries has existed in Longview for decades, but district officials haven't enforced it. Transfer decisions were left mostly up to building principals. Fritsch, who is fielding all district calls about the transfer issue, said he could not explain why the policy had not been enforced previously.

But the district has had to slash millions from its budget for the last two years, and enrollment is shrinking. Officials no longer have flexibility to deal with big enrollment imbalances, Fritsch said.

"If we're in a growth mode you can be a little more flexible (with transfers)," Fritsch said. "I'd say you can add staffing to take care of the influx."

Students who transfer within the district - and into the district - for purposes of participating in athletics has been a hot-button topic in recent years, and has created some animosity among sports boosters from both schools. This also has filtered down to the district's three junior highs, where allegations of recruiting student-athletes have been levied.

To this, Fritsch said, "moving for athletic reasons is never a valid excuse" and won't be considered for future transfer requests.

Under district policy that now will be enforced, the district will allow only swaps between schools Mark Morris and R.A. Long if students are of the same grade level, academic performance and discipline history, Fritsch said. Transfers must be one-for-one exchanges, except to keep siblings together at a school. For example, schools need to transfer one 10th grader for another 10th grader who has a similar grade-point-average and neither are trouble makers.

Transfers already in effect will be continued until a student graduates, if the students maintains good standing at that school. Incoming students will be allowed to transfer out of attendance boundaries if their older siblings already are at the school. However, this exemption won't apply if the sibling has or will have graduated.

The district has not kept track of the number of transfers until this spring, when it approved five transfers into R.A. Long and eight into Mark Morris for the 2010-11 school year. The three additional transfers to Mark Morris will keep siblings together, Fritsch said.

This spring the district received eight complaints from parents districtwide about transfer denials, he said.

Longview resident Karla Gates was denied permission this spring for her youngest child to attend Cascade Middle School next year, where her older child graduated from last year. Gates said she made the request because she already knew the Cascade staff and wanted to remain active in their Parent Teacher Organization.

But Gates said she understands the district needs to be fair and she's looking forward to becoming an active parent at Monticello Middle School.

"I've heard really good things about the teachers there," she said.

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