Before he was married, even before he met his wife and had children, Ron Regazzi focused on schools in deciding where to live.
One reason was practical. He had heard that good school districts provide good home resale values. But he also had another motivation: That if I get married and have kids that I don’t want to have to move into a good school district. I’d rather start there.
Today, Julie and Ron Regazzi commute to jobs in separate cities, but they live in Leo-Cedarville, a town of 3,800 residents in northeast Allen County. The notion of good schools is a large part of what keeps them there, and they’re not alone.
Leo-Cedarville has grown by more than 30 percent in the last decade, one of the fastest rates in Allen County. Many factors could be in play, but the perception of good schools has drawn the Regazzis and others to town.
School is one of the big reasons that I’ve heard, said Julie Regazzi, who has two children in the school system and is the exiting president of the Leo-Cedarville Parent Teacher Organization.
Incoming PTO President Amy Horning, with three children in the school system, also said she and her husband were drawn to Leo-Cedarville because of the schools.
People move for a lot of reasons, including jobs and to escape from the big city. But for many, good schools are an important factor and contribute to town growth.
A 1998 study out of South Carolina seems to bear that out.
Still, if good schools attract families, no clear enrollment trend is seen in Fort Wayne Community Schools, which also has its share of high-performing schools and allows parents to choose where to send their children.
Good and bad
Generally, the fastest-growing areas of Allen County – townships north and west of Fort Wayne – happen to have schools with high standardized test scores and good ratings on the state’s much-criticized A-F school-grading system.
The two elementary schools and junior-senior high school in Leo-Cedarville have among the highest standardized test scores in the sprawling East Allen County Schools district, which consumes about half the county and includes urban and rural neighborhoods. Two of East Allen’s three A schools are in Leo-Cedarville.
While Woodlan-area schools also did reasonably well, scores at the rest of EACS’ schools were lower, sometimes much lower.
Meanwhile, nearly all schools in Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools posted scores of 80 percent or above in students passing both math and English sections of the ISTEP+, the state’s yearly standardized test for grades 3 through 8.
In the past nine years, enrollments have climbed at Northwest Allen and Southwest Allen but have dropped at East Allen districtwide and remained steady at the county’s fourth and largest district, Fort Wayne Community Schools, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
Likewise, the general population in the NACS and SACS areas has grown significantly, while the 11-township EACS district posted modest growth as FWCS changed little.
Fort Wayne Community has some good schools with high test scores and good state letter grades that have declined in enrollment the last several years, according to Department of Education figures.
It also has an F school, Shawnee Middle School, which has seen enrollment increase by 29 percent since 2006.
Likewise, Miami Middle School has a low standardized test score, is rated D by the state, and yet its enrollment has grown 44 percent during the same period.
FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said school officials are trying to make sure it won’t become overcrowded.
For us, we are always telling parents it’s not just about the letter grade. It’s not just about the test score, she said. You need to go to the school. You need to see it. And we know that once people are in the buildings and they see it, they like what they see.
A 1998 study out of Clemson University looked at high average test scores at high schools in South Carolina to determine whether school quality influenced population in rural areas and fringe areas near cities.
The study, The Role of Local School Quality in Rural Employment and Population Growth, found a link between good schools and population growth in those areas.
But in their conclusion the authors issued an it depends.
The importance of school quality as a rural economic development strategy depends on the location and characteristics of the community, the report says. Improvements in school quality will enhance community growth prospects for those communities with the appropriate mix of other amenities.
EACS Superintendent Ken Folks, a former Carroll Middle School principal in Northwest Allen, said parents consider a whole laundry list when deciding on schools.
Most of our students attend the district they live in, but we do have choice, he said. I’m hoping that parents do their homework, and they’re looking at the right fit for their child, they’re looking at these for the programs they want, this is the rigor that we want.
Alison Bowersock is a product of the NACS system. She and her husband, Travis, decided to settle in Huntertown – where Alison has lived her entire life – because of the schools and the small-town setting, she said. Their three children attend Huntertown Elementary, where Alison Bowersock is PTO president.
Huntertown’s estimated population is 5,313, a 200 percent increase since 2000, according to census figures. NACS enrollment has increased 16.7 percent since 2006, according to the Department of Education.
I think people see Northwest Allen County Schools as a good school system, Bowersock said. I think part of it is Huntertown is just a great community. It’s very family-friendly. It’s very community oriented. And I think if you don’t know the person standing next to you, most likely you know someone who does know them.
NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said a districtwide survey in November showed the importance residents place in its schools. Nearly 90 percent said they thought the schools made a difference in property values. A similar number of NACS parents said the schools played a role in their decision to move there.
Nearly 90 percent of the parents that responded indicated they paid a premium for housing or lots in our district so that their kids could attend our schools, he said. We do know from what we can tell property values are affected by the perceived quality of the schools.
How schools fit in the mix is hard to quantify, SACS Superintendent Philip Downs said. Like Stockman, Himsel, Folks and others, Downs said parents don’t necessarily put a lot of weight on state measures.
They’re going to be looking more at the relationship that their particular child has with their particular teacher or building principal and whether they feel welcome, Downs said. It’s a whole number of factors. The metrics the state puts out is based solely on test results on a couple days a year. Parents value that. They look at that, but I don’t think that’s the whole picture for a lot of parents.