Enrollment in New Canaan Public Schools increased by 59 students this year, and the district now has 4,172 students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, officials said Monday.
The figure is 108 students higher than projections made by a Marlborough-Mass.-based educational organization, NCPS Director of Human Resources Darlene Pianka said during the Board of Education’s regular meeting.
Among grade levels, the three elementary schools saw the highest year-over-year increase, up 21 students from the 2018-19 academic year, and were 72 students higher than projections, Pianka said during a presentation on enrollment, New England School Development Council projections and district staffing levels.
“Overall, according to our demographer, we are in a period of stable but slightly decreasing enrollment at the middle and elementary schools, with some small growth at the high school level, in general,” Pianka said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“I think that we can say this is all good information and positive in terms of our enrollment and the fact that we do have a lot of new students, which you are aware of from our budget season last year. And moving forward the complexity of this will be with the NESDEC projections and our best info to estimate what our enrollment will become and to plan for that accordingly.”
Board of Ed Vice Chair Dionna Carlson that, despite the increase of nearly 60 students in the district, the Board of Ed added just 1.85 full-time equivalents to the staff for this academic year.
“The dialogue is always ‘our staffing, our staffing, our staffing’ and ‘Why can’t you cut?’ ” Carlson said. “We have a significant increase in our population and we have modestly increased staff to meet that increased need.”
School board members asked Pianka and other administrators at the meeting where the 21 students over projection at NCHS are coming from (either former private school students or move-ins), why the NESDEC projections appear to be so far off in some cases (the kindergarten figures are less predictable based on trends such as birth rates, due to move-ins), how often the projections are recalculated (annually) and how closely the administration tracks net “in-migration” of new students by grade level (the data can be made available).
School board member Maria Naughton noted that local Realtors appear to have better information than NESDEC in hand—a point that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi conceded, especially with respect to what’s happening with kindergartners.
Carlson said the demographer appears to have been way off in making the projections except for NCHS, where the numbers are more predictable. For example, the demographer predicted a 51-student decline at the elementary school level, which is up 72, and a 22-student decline at the middle school, which is up 15, Carlson said.
“He was only on the mark at the high school, and that is pretty well baked,” she said. “I mean we may get a few people coming in from private schools, but that’s pretty well baked.”
Carlson said she supported Naughton’s suggestion that the district should work more closely with local Realtors to predict future enrollment because the demographer “really missed this year and not just last the elementary schools, he missed at the middle school, too, and that was a big miss at the middle school.”
Luizzi agreed, saying that the administration is planning to develop further its strong relationship with local Realtors.
Pianka during her presentation noted that in the last three years, a higher percentage of classes had achieved or surpassed target class-size guidelines set by the Board—16 to 20 students per class for kindergarten to third grade, 20 to 24 for fourth through eighth, and 14 to 25 for NCHS. According to Pianka, 100 percent of elementary school classrooms met their size guidelines—East School has an average class size of 19.1 students, South 19.2 and West 18.3, Pianka said.
However, Carlson said, there are still some troubling figures in two middle school math sections, with 28 and 29 kids in sixth- and seventh-grade classes.
“I know we have issues with math placement and math leveling, but we had a number of math sections at Saxe that were significantly above guidelines, and for me that is problematic and I am sure the parents in those classrooms are not thrilled with that either,” Carlson said. “And I just want to understand how we are going to manage that. Because when I see 28 kids in a math section, that is not New Canaan standards.”
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment Dr. Jill Correnty said that the figures likely reflect an advanced math class and that if students qualify for them, they’re not turned away. Sometimes move-ins also join those classes, she said.
Luizzi added that the Saxe “team model” complicates the matter, because it’s not as straightforward as creating three classes out of two, which would create new difficulties in scheduling the sections and figuring out who would teach the third one.