More up than down with local school enrollment
School enrollment is slightly up from last year in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, which saw drops the year before, but it’s down in Lake Placid, which had stayed level the year prior.
AuSable Valley also gained students and now is only two shy of Saranac Lake.
Most local private schools, meanwhile, are seeing enrollment grow.
Overall, school enrollment throughout northern New York has been declining since the early 2000s. The pattern can be seen across almost every school district in statistics from the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services): After baby boomers filled schools in the 1960s, enrollment generally dipped in the ’70s, plateaued in the ’80s, went back up in the ’90s and has been falling ever since.
Though total numbers are up slightly for the Saranac Lake Central District from last school year, a low number of kindergartners has raised some concerns. Last year’s kindergarten had been surprisingly low at 77 students. This year’s has 62.
“There is absolutely no correlation between the number of live births in the district five years ago and the number of students who actually come to kindergarten,” Superintendent Diane Fox said. “I do not have any reason that I can give as to why [our enrollment] is low.”
Petrova Elementary is Saranac Lake’s public elementary school, but kindergarten is also offered at St. Bernard’s, a Catholic parochial school, and Northern Lights School, a Waldorf institution. St. Bernard’s has 16 students enrolled for kindergarten this year, and Northern Lights has eight. Both of those numbers are up from last year, but not enough to match the drop at Petrova.
Fox also noticed that even though total enrollment has generally gone down over the past few years, the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunches has gone up. In the 2017-18 school year, that number was 482 students. This year’s numbers won’t be calculated until October. Fox said sometimes students who aren’t eligible at the beginning of the school year are eligible later because their parents or guardians work seasonal jobs, and their income starts to decrease when they’re not working as regularly.
Families not having enough money is not what the school hopes for, but it does make the district eligible for more state aid, Fox said.
“Even if people aren’t sure if they qualify for free or reduced lunches,” she said, “we encourage people to apply. It’s a benefit to them, and it’s a benefit to us.”
The Tupper Lake Central School District has 770 students enrolled this year, 12 more than last year. The district has had steadily declining numbers since 2007, when it had more than 1,000 students. This year’s rise hints at a plateau of the decline, and a possible reversal.
Two years ago, the high school had several students drop out mid-year for social or mental health reasons, and though several came back, every dropout in Tupper Lake has large effects on the statistics.
“Our graduation rate is typically above the state average,” McGowan said. “We have had students come back, and that’s good. We encourage that.
“If you have 50 kids graduating, a single kid is 2 percent, so it has a much more immediate impact if that student drops out.”
A common theme heard in Tupper Lake is the high number of students who graduate from the schools, move away for college or a career and don’t return, resulting in declining enrollment. McGowan said he hopes some of these graduates return and raise families in Tupper Lake.
“I want kids to come back and be members of the community,” he said, “but I also want them to explore the world and experience a life outside their comfort zone — live and work for many years someplace else. I don’t want them to feel as if they’re stuck in the town they were born in. The decision to come back should be conscious.”
The Lake Placid Central School District’s enrollment this year is 625, a 31-student decrease from last school year. Superintendent Roger Catania said smaller enrollment each year has been a trend since about 2002.
“It’s not just a Lake Placid issue, either,” he said, “we’re seeing it in plenty of school districts across the Adirondacks.”
A concern regularly brought up in Lake Placid is the housing market. Only about half of the residents in the village live there full time. The other half are second home owners, renting their properties out for long-term and vacation rentals. This can drive up property values, making housing less affordable.
“Housing is expensive in Lake Placid,” Catania said, “and that does limit our enrollment numbers sometimes. I think that the cost of housing can have a big impact on a family’s decision to move here.
“People don’t often move based solely on schools, either,” he continued. “Other factors such as lifestyle choice, jobs and the quality of housing throughout region create different opportunities. Nationally speaking, we’ve seen a large movement of people from the Northeast to Southwest in recent years, and that has to do climate, careers and so many other reasons.”
Catania said it takes more than the school district to increase enrollment, and he’d like to find ways to let people living in metropolitan areas know that they can move to the Adirondacks, have a relatively cheaper cost of living and send their children to smaller schools.
“How to make that happen is not something a group of teachers can work out on a Saturday,” he said. “It’s a community effort.”
Keene Central School
The Keene Central School District has stayed between 180 and 160 students for the past five years. Superintendent Dan Mayberry said the numbers float within that range because of strong, unique programming as well as taking in students from neighboring districts.
“We get a few from Lake Placid and some from AuSable Valley every year,” he said.
Mayberry said small class size is an advantage.
“They allow teachers to build strong relationships with their students,” he said. “It’s less likely for students to fall through the cracks.”
However, he did say sometimes classes can be too small.
“When a class size is below 10, it gets socially challenging because there is not a lot of variety of students to engage with on a peer level,” he said. “It’s great if you fit in, but not if you don’t. In the past, we’ve had a few classes that had 18 students, and we had some that had nine. You can really tell the difference, socially.”
This private high school in Lake Placid went up by 33 students from last year, an increase of 18 percent.
“We saw a record number of applicants,” said Brad D’Arco, director of admission, “and the strength of the applicants was impressive.”
D’Arco said Northwood has been introducing new classes and programs in the past few years to attract students with varied backgrounds from all around the world. For the 2018-19 school year, Northwood will have 159 boarding students and 34 local students.
“We’ve introduced entrepreneurship classes in the recent past, and our two robotics clubs are becoming more attractive,” he said. “We’ve also broadened our art offerings this year with theater and a capella groups. This year we’re also adding a boys soccer team to our sports roster.”
St. Bernard’s, a K-5 parochial school in Saranac Lake, has seen a steady increase in enrollment for the past eight years. This year, the Catholic school reached 85 students, roughly double the enrollment during its low point in 2010-11. Principal Ray Dora said the small school atmosphere is a plus and that parents are to thank for rising numbers.
“Ten years ago, we were in a downswing,” he said, “but for the past eight years, I think, we’ve seen a lot of good parent outreach and folks recommending the school to other people with children. We’ve got 16 students in kindergarten this year, which is a great number for us. We’re happy to see it go up. We’ve got some real solid teachers and parents who interested in keeping the school going.”
This year’s fifth grade is one of St. Bernard’s larger classes, so it’s unknown whether the annual enrollment growth will continue next year.
North Country School
This private school in Lake Placid has 79 students enrolled this year (56 boarders, 23 local), which is a good number, Director of Admissions David Damico said.
“A few years ago we converted one our student dorms into an academic building,” he said, “so we did see a dip that year.” He’s referring to the 2016-17 school year, which had 55 students enrolled.
“Now we’re back in a healthy range,” he added. “However, if the demand was there, we’d build more student housing.”
Damico said North Country is intentionally small, and tries to keep a 3-to-1 student-teacher ratio.
Two major projects coming to the North Country campus this year are a learning kitchen facility and a performing arts building. The kitchen building should be completed by January, and the arts center is expected to take 10 months for construction — possibly in time for the school’s summer program, Camp Treetops.
By the #s
Local School Enrollment
These numbers are unofficial, reported by schools to the Enterprise during the first two weeks of classes. Schools are listed from most populous to least populous. Preschool enrollment is not included. An asterisk (*) indicates the school also has preschool.
Saranac Lake Central School District (K-12)
AuSable Valley Central School District (K-12)
Tupper Lake Central School District (K-12)*
Lake Placid Central School District (K-12)
Northwood School (Private, Lake Placid, 9-12)
Keene Central School (K-12)
St. Bernard’s School (Catholic, Saranac Lake, K-5)
North Country School (Private, Lake Placid, 4-9)
Long Lake Central School (K-12)*
St. Agnes School (Catholic, Lake Placid, K-3)*
Adirondack Christian School (Baptist, Wilmington, K-12)*
Northern Lights School (Waldorf, Saranac Lake K)*