Barnstable Schools Superintendent Says Improving Economy Also Good For School Enrollment

schoolbusBARNSTABLE – As students head back to school this week and next across the Cape, the region’s largest school district is seeing strong enrollment numbers.

Today is the first day of classes for students attending public schools in the town of Barnstable, and Barnstable Interim Superintendent of Schools Bill Butler said class sizes are at a good level.

“I think we’re probably at close to ideal enrollment now, given that we closed several schools in 2009,” he said.

Over the past few years, enrollment in Barnstable schools has leveled off after taking a precipitous dip a decade ago.

But Butler said he sees that turning around.

“We’re beginning to see families moving into Barnstable again. Looking at some of the real estate data, it looks like housing sales are picking up a little bit. I think the economy has been improving steadily in the last several years,” he said.

To counteract the loss of students after the recession, the Barnstable School District underwent a major campaign to market Barnstable public schools to students in other districts, as well as to encourage Barnstable students to choose the public school system instead of private or charter schools.

Butler said that effort appears to have worked.

“This year, we’re at capacity in terms of “school choice,” the system by which students can opt to attend school in another district. We’re not excepting any more school choice students this year and I expect that will probably be the case going forward,” he said.

Butler was able to provide a bar chart showing enrollment in the Barnstable School District over the past 11 years.

The chart shows that enrollment has decreased steadily from the 2004 to 2005 school year through the 2008 to 2009 school year. That is when the town closed three of its eight elementary schools in response to the decrease from almost 6,000 students to a low of close to 5,200, a drop of 800 students in five years.

Enrollment popped back up by about 200 students for the 2009 to 2010 school year and “has remained fairly stable since then,” according to Butler.

Butler said he expects this year’s enrollment to be similar to last year, at just over 5,200, with some variation in grades.

“We are experiencing something of a bubble in the lower grades,” he said.

Butler said he hesitates to speculate about the reasons for enrollment changes over the years, but he has theories. “I suspect the decreases between 2004-05 and 2008-09 had something to do with the real estate bubble,” he said.

The Barnstable School District is also seeing changes in the demographics of its student population with an increase, Butler wrote in an e-mail response, “in the so-called high needs students (low income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and former English language learners).”

Around the Cape, other school districts have, for the most part, also continued a leveling off trend in enrollment figures this year.

But the town of Bourne is seeing an increase of students in the public school district.

This year, the Bourne School District, which began classes yesterday, has 2,064 students. That is a growth of 51 students over last year. About half the increase in students is in the high school. The other half is split between Bournedale Elementary School and Bourne Middle School.

Bourne School Superintendent Steven Lamarche said of the increase, “More students are choosing

Bourne Schools than in past years. This is our largest freshman class in the past three four years. Our staff has worked hard to keep the student at the center of everything we do.”

At the other end of the Cape, in the Outer Cape towns of Provincetown and Truro, which both begin classes September 8, school leaders are also seeing a leveling off in enrollment numbers.

Provincetown School Superintendent Beth Singer said Provincetown is expecting 115 students to start the school year in 2016 next Tuesday. The Provincetown Schools system includes students in grades pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. This year’s number is two students up from last year, however, Singer noted, “the distribution of students by grade is more meaningful.”

Last September, there were 18 pre-kindergarten students, whereas this September, there are half that many, a loss of 9 students.

On the other hand, kindergarten through grade 8 in Provincetown has an increase of 11 students over last year.

The Middle Years Program in Provincetown, which includes grades 5 to 8, has a substantial increase of 22 students, which represents a 41 percent growth in one year.

In neighboring Truro, the student enrollment is just over 120, which is slightly down from last year.

Truro Schools Superintendent Mike Gradone said that number will be able to be confirmed next Tuesday the first day of school.

At the Cape’s two technical high schools, enrollment figures are about the same as last year.

At Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, which begins classes today, Superintendent Robert Sanborn said he expects this year’s enrollment to decline marginally or stay the same as last year’s figure of 654 students. But over the past six years, since 2011, Cape Tech’s enrollment is down 4.3 percent.

“We are still accepting students in grades 9 and 10,” he said.

At the other end of the Cape at Upper Cape Regional Technical High School in Bourne, classes begin today and this year’s enrollment is 741 students.

“That represents an increase of approximately 15 students,” said Robert Dutch, superintendent of Upper Cape Tech.

Although the Dennis-Yarmouth School District also begins classes today, Schools Superintendent Carol

Woodbury said she could not estimate enrollment figures in D-Y schools until after the first week of classes or even beyond.

“The Cape is rather transient, so we don’t want to report inaccurate numbers,” she wrote in an email response to a request for figures.

Mashpee public school students also begin classes today, but Superintendent Brian Hyde did not respond to a request for enrollment figures.

Cape public schools that begin classes next Tuesday, September 8, the day after Labor Day, are Falmouth, Sandwich, Monomoy, and Nauset.


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