After more than a decade of declining enrollment that led to the closure of four elementary schools and a comprehensive redrawing of elementary attendance boundaries, the Kingston City School District is enjoying its first significant increase in its student population. According to school officials, the district has 104 more students enrolled for the 2019-20 school year than it did in 2018-19.
In 2012, school officials finalized a comprehensive redistricting plan after seeing the student population drop from roughly 10,000 to fewer than 7,000 over the course of a decade. In the plan, Anna Devine, Sophie Finn and Zena elementary schools closed at the end of the 2012-13 school year, joining Frank L. Meagher, which had shut its doors one year earlier. Students from the attendance boundaries of the since-shuttered schools were absorbed completely by existing schools, dropping the total number of elementary buildings from 11 to seven over a two-year period. As part of the plan, the district moved the fifth grade into its middle schools.
The district has since sold three of its former elementary schools, reopening the fourth — Meagher — as a pre-kindergarten hub and administrative headquarters last month.
Repercussions following the recent enrollment spike are few, seen primarily at Crosby Elementary, where two kindergarten sections have 26 students apiece.
“We know our goal is 21 to 22 at K-1-2,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino at the Oct. 2 school board meeting. Padalino said the district would hire a new kindergarten teacher and expand to a third section at Crosby, likely having that in place by sometime next month. The superintendent added that kindergarten is where the largest student population increases have been seen across the district.
Edson Elementary also has two kindergarten sections, with one at 23 students and the other 21, not enough to add a third section. Padalino said that schools have at least one floating teaching assistant who can help in different situations, including classrooms which might be slightly overpopulated based on the district’s class size goals.
Trustee Robin Jacobowitz said that she was pleased with the response to the situation at Crosby.
“I’m glad that we’re looking at ways to mandate that 26 at Crosby,” she said, “You’ve got to draw the lines somewhere.”
Padalino said that despite their best efforts, the district’s enrollment predictions haven’t always been accurate.
“I don’t think anyone predicted that we would be off 104 students at this point,” he said. “We do look at live births, how many dependent children were born, and what’s the housing capacity. Those are all factors that are put into place when we were looking at the role of projection. We have research that tells us what possibly could come. But you can’t guarantee all those students who were born this year, five years from now, four years in, they’re going to come into our programs. They may move and they may attend different schools. And right now are a lot of our enrollment isn’t based on people who were born here. It’s an inexact science, to say the least.”
School Board President James Shaughnessy said the steady decline in student population appears to be over.
“From 2002 to 2016 there was a decline every year between 100 and 150 students,” he said. Ever since, the student population has risen, slowly at first. “One year it was one student, last year there were 25 students more and this year 104. So I think we’re definitely beyond that long-term decline that we were experiencing for a large number of years.”
Padalino said that the district at some point in the near future will likely have to revisit redistricting and redrawing elementary attendance boundaries.
“We’ve talked about this and nobody likes to talk about it,” he said. “But I mean redistricting is something that I think is something we need to start talking about, especially when we start looking at our budgeting and our, you know, resources and equitably doing so. We need to look at our attendance zones as well. We started, we’ve been doing a little bit over the last few years. Nothing official, nothing out there for the board to make decisions now. But I think that that’s part of that for sure.”