‘We Are Seeing a Pattern Now’: Move-Ins To New Canaan Expected To Drive Record-High Kindergarten Enrollment

Due mainly to young families moving to town, New Canaan Public Schools are projected to see a net gain of 72 students next academic year, creating one of the highest total enrollments that the district has seen in decades, officials said Monday.

In the first public release of current enrollment figures and projections since the district’s Oct. 1 report date, officials during the Board of Education’s regular meeting reported that total students will rise from 4,174 in this academic year to 4,246 for 2016-17, according to the New England School Development Council (see “Nov. 9 Staffing and Enrollment” presentation):

NCPS Enrollment Projections 2016-17

LevelCurrent Enrollment 2015-16Enrollment Projection 2016-17Difference
Total4,1744,246+72
K-41,5941,628+34
5-81,3291,347+18
9-121,2511,271+20
Source: New England School Development Council, as per NCPS

 

“In looking at our school district’s historical enrollment, using our pre-K to 12 enrollment this year of 4,217, 10 years ago in 2005 we had 4,163,” Gary Kass, the district’s director of human resources, said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS. “We are 54 students higher, and this slow but steady growth is also predicted for our future. Ten years from now in the ’25-’26 school year, we are projected to rise to 42,90 students or 73 students higher than we are now. Slow, steady growth.”

Noting that the district’s demographer has been able to project enrollment accurately within 1 percent, Kass said that the increase in students “was attributable primarily to families moving into the district.” Though kindergarten is the most difficult grade to predict, projections now call for 317 total students enrolled in the grade—a figure that would mark an all-time high for New Canaan, Kass said.

Individual sections in the elementary schools are operating at or near capacity, under the Board of Ed’s guidelines, Kass said, and New Canaan High School is projected in the 2020-21 school year to reach 1,343 students, nearing an all-time high of 1,348 set just five years ago.

Saxe Middle School grew year-over-year by 37 students and is projected “to rise steadily over the next seven years,” reaching 1,376 students in the 2022-23 school year.

“We expect continued monitoring of enrollment at this level, over the next several years, but simply stated: We know that we need more classroom space at Saxe right now,” Kass said. “This is a school well over capacity. And this is something that we need to address in the short-term but also a longer-term solution. We also know that the demographer has had a consistently high track record of accuracy in calculating the projections. So again, at Saxe, over these next years, we do see a steady rise in these next seven years.”

The comments came as a building committee that includes members of school board—as well as Town Council, Board of Finance and others—seek approval on Tuesday night from the finance board for a proposed $18.6 million capital project at the middle school. It includes a renovation of the school’s auditorium, currently closed, as well as “right-sizing” of music rooms and a 12-classroom addition on the northwest section of the Saxe campus—the last piece of which is designed to address what advocates call an ongoing space crunch there. The finance board’s meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Town Meeting Room, and, if approved, the Town Council could take up the matter at a Nov. 19 meeting.

Kass during his presentation broke down staffing levels at each school and in Special Education, and—together with Saxe Principal Greg Macedo—fielded questions from board members about space issues (especially in the 7th grade, where math levels strain class sizes), a concentration of overly large classes at the elementary schools and an odd emerging trend in what the demographer calls “net move-ins.”

Board Vice Chair Scott Gress noted that the “birth-to-K” experience in New Canaan—in other words, number of births to New Canaan families against how many kids attended kindergarten about five years later, as well as how many families moved into town—remained relatively consistently for some 48 years, according to data presented by Kass (see the last page of the Nov. 9 “Memorandum on Enrollment Projections” here). Yet the “net move-ins” in seven of the past eight years have doubled and nearly tripled the historical figure.

“I recognize that makes everything more difficult to predict,” Gress said. “If you have got 60 people moving in and all of the sudden you have 143 people moving into the district, it’s a big change and oddly enough, at the same time the births in New Canaan are going down. And I am not trying to encourage anything here, I am merely trying to point out that we don’t know why theoretically—I would make the case that the reason people move to New Canaan is because we provide an excellent education—but how do we know if 40 years of experience versus eight years of a very different experience. How are we looking at that?”

Kass responded that the district’s demographer is looking at the rise in “net move-in” figure not as an anomaly but as a clear trend.

“We are seeing as a pattern now,” Kass said. One piece of data that is driving the demographer’s prediction that kindergarten levels will hit an all-time high next year is availability of housing, he said.

Gress noted that New Canaan has more houses on the market today that it did one year ago—in fact, active residential listings at the close of the third quarter were up 31 percent year-over-year, Realtors have said.

“So my guess is that number [of net move-ins] is going to continue to rise,” Gress said.

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