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The original item was published from 10/24/2018 3:58:29 PM to 1/1/2019 12:15:00 AM.

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Posted on: October 24, 2018

[ARCHIVED] IN THE NEWS: Greenwich enrollment rises, along with student need

Greenwich enrollment rises, along with student need

By Jo Kroeker Updated 8:34 am EDT, Wednesday, October 24, 2018           

GREENWICH — Enrollment for Greenwich Public Schools is up for the fifth consecutive year and will peak next year, according to district data collected this October.

The district is also seeing a historic high in the number of students who identify as Hispanic or of two or more ethnicities. For the first time, more than one-third of Greenwich students meet the state definition of “high needs,” meaning they qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, require special education services or are learning English.

The data show these students are overwhelmingly attending New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue, two schools that will again be cited by the State Department of Education as racially imbalanced. Schools with that designation either exceed, as New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue do, or fall short of the district’s average enrollment of minority students by 25 percentage points or more.

This year’s data also classifies Western Middle School as impending racial imbalance toward minority students. The state designates schools as impending racial imbalance if they exceed or fall short of the district average for minority enrollment by 15 percentage points.

Riverside and Parkway will also be labeled impending racial imbalance, but unlike New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue, they fall below the district’s average minority enrollment, by 16.8 and 18.2 percentage points, respectively.

Officials say the data concerning racial imbalance confirms what they knew four years ago.

“(It) reflects data similar to that which was known when the current Racial Balance Plan was developed, which was approved by the State Board of Education in July 2014,” Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo said in a statement.

Connecticut law requires school districts with imbalanced schools to submit a racial-balance plan. It does not require that the district actually achieve racial balance, however.

Board members and administrators hope the opening of the new New Lebanon building, meant to accommodate more students in the neighborhood and attract more magnet students, will affect the report’s findings.

“The district will continue to track racial balance status on an annual basis, but will not be in a position to evaluate the plan’s impact until the new New Lebanon School has been opened and has had a chance to attract new magnet students,” Mayo said.

Forty-seven non-minority students would have to enroll at New Lebanon for the school to achieve racial balance, District Research Manager Jennifer Lau said when she presented the data during the Board of Education meeting Thursday.

Traditionally, past magnet programs in western Greenwich schools have failed to attract significant numbers of students from elsewhere in town.

Outbound migration from New Lebanon has affected the racial composition of the school, which is 80 percent minority, school records show. The “catchment area,” meaning the neighborhood district that geographically feeds the school, is 69 percent minority.

“So you can infer from that what the outbound racial composition was,” Lau said, adding that the school’s space constraints prevent more families from enrolling their children at New Lebanon.

Changing demographics

District-wide, over the last five years, the percentage of Hispanic students has risen steadily, from 18 percent to 22 percent, as has the percentage of students who identify with two or more races, from 3.4 percent to 4.9 percent. Numbers for Asian and African-American students have remained constant, under 9 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

More students require special education services, rising steadily from 885 in 2013 to 1,072 in 2018. The number of students learning English, 519, broke 500 for the second time.

The increase in high-needs students is mostly attributed to state mechanisms that automatically enroll students for free- or reduced-price lunch, Lau said.

“Those students existed already, it was just a matter of us surfacing them,” she said.

The next 10 years

This year, 9,113 students are enrolled in Greenwich Public Schools for preschool through 12th grade. The number, up 71 students from last year, includes young adults in Greenwich’s alternative education program, Windrose, and the 28 students the district outplaces for special education services.

GPS enrollment will increase for the sixth consecutive year and peak in 2019-20, according to projections. Members of the 732-member class of 2026, fifth graders now, are driving the district’s enrollment spikes.

Middle-school enrollment will peak in 2019-20, when the class starts the sixth grade, and high-school enrollment will peak in 2022-23, when they enter the ninth grade, according to projections.

The rise started in 2013 because of a migration of students to the district and a positive rate of kindergartners replacing graduating seniors, Lau said.

But the town’s birth rate is projected to decline over the next decade, meaning the district — currently balking statewide declines in school enrollment — will eventually follow other Connecticut school districts.

After the class of 2026, enrollment will return to what Lau calls “normal levels,” averaging 8,912 over the next 10 years. This estimated average approaches the average from the last decade, 8,891 students.

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