Nantucket Schools Need More Space

By MATT MCCARTHY

Nantucket's Brant Point Lighthouse is the first thing most visitors see as they approach the island by ferry. The island's school population is growing.

Nantucket’s Brant Point Lighthouse is the first thing most visitors see as they approach the island by ferry. The island’s school population is growing.

NANTUCKET – Contrary to the shrinking student populations in Cape Cod towns, Nantucket’s school population is growing.

“We’re really sort of surprised that the growth here has been so rapid, and that’s a little bit contrary to what we see on the mainland. We need to deal with our growth,” Nantucket Superintendent of Schools Michael Cozort said.

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Given those demographics, Cozort said, school department is at the beginning stages of looking into the matter of a new school, but no decisions have been made about whether to expand existing schools, build on the same campus or build elsewhere on the island.

The need for a new school is driven by enrollment, Cozort said. When he arrived four years ago enrollment had gone down from 2006-2007 school year from 1300 students to 1233 in 2009-2010 school year.

“I looked at it and said well I won’t have to be building any buildings,” he said. But since that time, enrollment has gone up by 1,506 students, close to an increase of 300 students in four years.

The elementary school which was built for a capacity of 550 students is now approaching 700 students. The middle school was built for a capacity of 275 to 300 students is now at 350. The high school was built for capacity of 450 and is now at 462.

Looking at demographics, classes of 80 to 90 contrast with this year’s incoming kindergarten of 138 students.

“That’s a pretty drastic swing and we’re watching those numbers carefully,” he said. “The days of classes of 80 to 90 students has certainly gone by.”

Cozort said numbers went down during the worst of the economy when there were not as many jobs on the island and jobs dictate the island population. In the last four to five years as the economy has started to recover, building has gone up sharply and tourism has rallied.

“You have to first look at the economy,” he said.

The island’s Hispanic student population has grown from 10 percent of the population to 20 percent of the student population.

Also, as the island has developed the shoulder season, Cozort said, “I think more and more families who come here for the work are staying year-round.”

Nantucket’s population from a recent demographic study is at about 11,000 to  12,000, Cozort said, but he added, those figures are disputed.

“I think a lot of people on the island believe that actual number could be between 13 and 14,000,” he said. “And some of that is undocumented workers.”