Statewide the percentage students enrolled in public schools dropped by more than 3 percent, the largest one-year decline on record. For the last decade, Connecticut has reported annual declines of about 0.5 to 1 percent.
“It definitely looks like we are seeing lower enrollment this year, lower than what we would have normally seen from one year to the next,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, bureau chief for the Connecticut Department of Education. “We don’t know as of yet what are some of the reasons for this … we know that we have seen declines in a lot of districts, not just a few outliers.”
But as statewide public school enrollment declined, however, some rural districts reported greater than 10 percent increases in student population.
Woodstock and Cornwall, both enrolling students from kindergarten until the eighth grade, have reported fall 2020 populations exceeding 110% of fall 2019 numbers.
“We began hearing around May or June that the real estate market in Woodstock had just shot through the roof. Homes that were on sale were getting multiple bids above the asking price,” said Viktor Toth, superintendent of Woodstock Public Schools. “The common theme of wanting to move to Woodstock was because of the built-in social distancing that comes with living in a rural Connecticut town.”
Toth said that a combination of families moving to the area from Massachusetts and the closing of St. Joseph’s Grammar School, a parochial school in Thompson, could explain the numbers.
“We probably had about 50 families come in that we weren’t expecting this year,” he said. “When we return to in-person we are going to have class sizes in the range of 21-24 which is higher than we would like, but it’s just a huge increase.”
Although several towns surrounding Cornwall in the northwestern corner of the state, including Salisbury, Sharon and Norfolk, also reported growing student populations — likely from an influx of residents from New York — rising enrollments in Woodstock are an anomaly in eastern Connecticut. Almost every other district in the east, from neighboring Pomfret to Norwich to Waterford, has seen a decline far greater than the statewide average of 3 percent.
Across Connecticut 41 towns — most in the eastern half of the state — are reporting public school enrollments of between 90 and 94 percent of 2019 totals.
Catherine Dowler, principal of Fields Memorial School in Bozrah, said that the declines reflected the aging population of many towns in the region.
“We are a very small town with not a lot of properties available for sale. Clearly as our students grow up and get older, we don’t have a lot of new families moving into town to replace them,” she said.
Old Saybrook reported the largest decline in public school enrollment in the Connecticut River Valley.
“The most significant change is created by the graduation of a very large senior class and the enrollment of a much smaller kindergarten class,” said Jan Perruccio, the superintendent of Old Saybrook Public Schools.
According to Gopalakrishnan, however, the decline this year appears to be too great to attribute to demographics and year over year class sizes
“The student that exited from the system may have moved out of state, gone to a private school, homeschooling, moved to another country … we will find out based on the student level data that districts are submitting now what some of these reasons are,” he said.
That data and analysis should be available by mid-November, Gopalakrishnan said.