Declining school enrollment projections
Enrollment in the Block Island School may drop to new lows within the next 10 years, prompting Superintendent Robert Hicks to recommend a larger “community” conversation about “what we want the school to look like.”
The projections were contained in a recent enrollment report prepared by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) that Hicks presented at the March 18 meeting of the Block Island School Committee. The report projected that total enrollment at the Block Island School could drop to just 99 students by 2022. The numbers also prompted members of the committee, as well as members of the community, to address some of the larger issues facing the island itself.
“As the years go by, we’ll have to discuss this issue,” Hicks said about the declining numbers.
Former committee member and current Town Councilor Sean McGarry said he felt it “all has to do with the island economy. We should look at affordable rentals and see what we can do to foster the school’s needs, the needs of our young people.”
Each year the island school receives an enrollment report from NESDEC, a regional organization supporting New England school districts. This year’s report indicated decreasing births and a significant drop in historical enrollments since 1997.
Birth rates were between 14 and 16 a year for 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003. Correspondingly, kindergarten enrollment at the B.I. School ran consistently between 10 and 17 from 2001 to 2007. From 2003 on, birth rates have declined, as has kindergarten enrollment.
Student body totals have fluctuated somewhat but maintained a high, running between 140 in 2002 and 147 in 2006, then declining from 146 in 2007 to 111 in 2012. School Committee member Pat Doyle asked Hicks if the school had ever combined classes for different grades. A number of years ago it had, he said, but a decade ago the district adopted a policy creating single grades, which still exists.
He said NESDEC also had looked at “the degree to which housing and housing costs” would have an impact. Elizabeth Connor felt the issue was so important it should be put on an upcoming agenda to be discussed.
Hicks explained that in considering combinations there were a number of models. He pointed to South Kingstown, for example, which combined two grades and added a half-time teacher. Doyle asked Hicks to share some of these models with the committee, so members would be more fully informed when making a decision. “I don’t think we should just put it together,” said Doyle.
Committee member Chris Willi also wanted the item placed on an agenda, feeling particular concern about the declining elementary numbers, which had historically run the highest in the school. Projections show them dropping significantly, which worried him much more, he said, than secondary class size.
Doyle suggested it might be time to think of “bringing other kids to the island.” McGarry agreed, saying: “We need to foster a sustainable year-round community.”