By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
In the north, it is a battle between Liberty and Sunrise Mountain high schools, at least until a new school comes along.
About 30 percent of each school’s enrollment is on variance — that is, they come from outside the schools’ attendance boundaries. Many of these students live outside the district. But many are Peoria Unified School District students living within the boundaries of either Sunrise Mountain or Liberty, but they choose to attend the opposing school.
About 340 students live in the Sunrise Mountain attendance zone, but they are on variance at Liberty, and 175 students whose home school is Liberty are on variance at Sunrise Mountain.
PUSD spokeswoman Danielle Airey said it is hard to say why these two schools swap students like this.
While Sunrise Mountain and Liberty, which has been closed to open enrollment, offer the same curriculum for core classes, there are a few variations when it comes to elective courses, mainly in the area of Career Technical Education. Unique offerings include a strong culinary arts program at Liberty and a fire science program at Sunrise Mountain.
Even siblings have parted ways and been known to attend non-home schools based on the specific schools’ offerings. Conversely, siblings have been known to stick together regardless of their home school.
But by and large, they are both strong schools with solid, proud cultures of excellence, Ms. Airey said.
“They have very unique cultures and often times a student will have an older sibling that attends one over the other, regardless of a boundary change, and then the younger sibling wants to follow in their footsteps. Once a Lion, always a Lion or once a Mustang, always a Mustang when it comes to families,” Ms. Airey said.
The grand majority of out-of-district variances come from the Deer Valley Unified School District in Glendale.
About 220 Deer Valley students go to Liberty and about 160 go to Sunrise Mountain. After that, students from Dysart and Glendale unified school districts trickle in.
Ms. Airey said the two schools’ reputations have a draw from outside the district.
Also, a portion of the Deer Valley district is in the WestWing area of North Peoria, which is actually much closer to both PUSD schools than any DVUSD high school.
“In this growing community, I believe word spreads quickly that (Liberty and Sunrise Mountain) are places where students thrive and go on to achieve greatness in college and careers,” Ms. Airey said.
With about 650 students on variance at Liberty and total students at about 2,240, district officials have closed open enrollment at the school. About 1,860 attend Sunrise Mountain.
Rapid growth in North Peoria has resulted in capacity enrollment at Liberty and at an elementary school. In the coming years, capacity is expected at other north Peoria schools that feed into the two high schools. The influx has created a need for one new high school and two elementary schools.
Ms. Airey said the district is in need of the new schools despite the variances at the high schools.
“We make our projections both assuming the cohort is ‘as-is,’ meaning we do not remove anyone once they are a part of our family. However and most importantly, we project off the number of expected students that live within the boundary first and foremost,” she said. “Even if we removed the variance students, it would not be enough.”
To receive a variance at a school that has open enrollment, a parent must apply and maintain good standing at the school upon acceptance. Parents do not have to disclose why they want a variance, but often they are seeking a specific program or experience offered at that school or a particular school is closer to a parent’s place of employment. Below is a breakdown of where students come from before choosing either Liberty or Sunrise Mountain.
9621 W. Speckled Gecko Dr.
Sunrise Mountain: 338
Total variances: 649
Total students: 2,236
Percent of variances: 29
21200 N. 83rd Ave.
Total variances: 500
Total students: 1,855
Percent of variances: 27