Slight decline in student enrollment predicted over next three years

Nov 30, 2017 by

Fluctuations should level out at 2,400

Published in the November 30, 2017 edition

By MICHAEL GEOFFRION SCANNELL

NORTH READING — School officials say enrollment is expected to decline over the upcoming years, but these patterns may not last as long as a decade.

At the most recent School Committee meeting on Nov. 13, a presentation on future student enrollment projections was given by Director of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly.

Connelly outlined some of the methodology used in making these type of forecasts. He said that generally what happened in the past will continue to happen in the future. This historical data will help determine reliable percentages of increases or decreases between any two grades from year to year.

Connelly emphasized that proposed or planned residential development and/or turnover of homes can impact these numbers. Currently, the economy and real estate market seem to be improving, indicating that perhaps more families will move to North Reading. There is already evidence of this occurring with an increase in homes sold and new homes built.

NRHS predicted to see largest decline

Enrollment for kindergarten through grade 5 is expected to increase by 27 students in the next three years to about 1,130 students. By contrast, the High School will experience the largest projected decline of 85 students over that same period. It is currently projected that enrollment at NRHS will decline from 812 students this year to 775 students in the 2018-19 school year and subsequently decline to a possible low of 703 students in the 2021-22 school year.

After that, the projections see the student population stabilizing at about 2,400 students.

“Up until the last few years, the high school had typically experienced a consistent loss of between 12-14 percent of students enrolling in grade 9 at the end of grade 8, however, this trend has decreased in recent years to only a loss of between 2 to 3 percent,” Connelly stated in his report, which is believed to be a direct correlation to the opening of the new high school building.

Connelly stressed that these projections are done every year and are most accurate for the most current years and get less accurate as they go out further.

“The kindergarten enrollment is the most difficult to predict because of students enrolled in private preschools and a difficulty in projecting how many new students may have moved into the area,” Connelly said.

He also noted that some estimation for kindergarten is done using birth statistics from five to six years prior. The town has averaged about 150 births per year over the past seven years. According to Connelly, “historically these projections have been within approximately one percent in terms of accuracy.”

School Committee Chairman Mel Webster pointed out that the slight increase in kindergarten students this past year was only 1.6 percent off projections.

Tapping into historical data

The report included historical data about total enrollment in town from the 1949–50 school year through October 1, 2017. In the 1950s, enrollment jumped from 900 students to 1,841 students.

Enrollment continued to rise in the 1960s to 3,217 and it peaked in the 1970s at 3,461.

In the 1980s, enrollment decreased to 1,926 only to surge again in the 1990s, peaking at 2,319. Current total student enrollment is 2,493.

Editor’s note: Until the spring of 1957 enrollment in the North Reading Public Schools was limited to grades 1 through 9 at the Batchelder School. Local students attended high school in Reading until the opening of the North Reading Junior/Senior High School in the fall of 1957. Kindergarten was not added until the 1960s.

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