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School enrollment: AuSable eclipses Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake, Lake Placid student count drops; Tupper Lake is up

Kindergartener Ella Fitzgerald has an art lesson in St. Bernard’s School’s outdoor classroom. (Provided photo — Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, St. Bernard’s School)

The start of this fall’s school year has been the strangest on record, thanks to COVID-19 and the implementation of hybrid learning models. Going back to school has meant friends and backpacks, but also masks, temperature checks, half-filled school buses, painted 6-foot-apart dots and learning cohorts. And the number of students in each school district is different, too.

For the first time, the AuSable Valley Central School District has eclipsed Saranac Lake in enrollment — albeit by 34 students. The Tupper Lake Central School District saw its enrollment rebound this year, while the Lake Placid Central School District, which continues to see a decline in enrollment.

The numbers for each school district reflect the fact that many students have opted to home-school, and that procedures to keep students safe are ever-changing. They also reflect a steady downward trend since the early 2000s.

AuSable Valley

t. Bernard’s School third-graders Nelliana Pillen, left, and Claire Smith go on a nature scavenger hunt. (Provided photo — Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, St. Bernard’s School)

This district has risen to become the most-enrolled school district in the Enterprise coverage area this year, with around 50 more students than Saranac Lake, which is usually the highest.

“Well, I guess there’s no trophies for that, but it’s nice to see,” Superintendent Paul Savage said.

There are 1,133 K-12 students enrolled at AuSable Valley Central School, eight more than a year ago. Savage said he is glad that enrollment has been “stable” over the past years.

He said around a decade ago the district lost about 300 students in a short period, which was difficult for school programs and funding.

Savage attributed the high enrollment to the large geographical area the district encompasses, 300 square miles. He said the area is “ripe” for people moving in, saying there are building projects and close proximity to other population centers.

The AuSable Valley Central School District’s students are studying 100% remotely right now.

“We know that this is temp,” Savage said. “We know this, too, will pass at some point, but we want to make sure that they are safe.”

Savage said the district learned a lot from going remote on short notice last year and that it has only gotten better since. He said students and parents have been working hard, as well as teachers and administrators.

Saranac Lake

As of the fourth week of September, there were 1,099 students enrolled in the Saranac Lake Central School District, according to Superintendent Diane Fox.

“There are a lot of moving parts at the beginning of the school year,” she said.

This number includes Bloomingdale Elementary School, Petrova Elementary, Saranac Lake Middle School and Saranac Lake High School.

This is down 5.5%, 64 students, from an enrollment of 1,163 last year. With 53 students opting to home-school this year, the decrease reflects the reaction to schooling in a pandemic.

The numbers above are “not completely clean,” said Fox, as the state uses the first Wednesday of October as a universal student enrollment count day. Fox said several students listed as enrolled may still move out of the district or may be in the process of shifting to home-schooling.

Tupper Lake

Superintendent Russ Bartlett said this year there are 802 students enrolled in the Tupper Lake Central School District. This is up from 762 last year.

This district’s numbers have fluctuated over recent years, with a general trend downward since 2007, when it had more than 1,000 students.

Bartlett said there is an ebb and flow of the number of families entering the district and the number of families leaving.

“There’s maybe a few more new faces than usual,” Bartlett said, “across the board, K through 12.”

Bartlett said the number of students who opted for full-time synchronous remote learning has remained around the same since opening day, at around 57 students, or around 8% of the district’s student population. They are included in the count, though some homeschoolers who don’t use district classes aren’t.

Bartlett said remote learning is not working for some students, so they are returning to in-person instruction earlier than planned. There have also been a few in-person students who have moved into the 10-week remote learning cycle after the first week of classes.

“It’s kind of been a wash,” Bartlett said.

Lake Placid

The Lake Placid Central School District continues to see a gradual decline in enrollment, a trend mirrored in many other school districts throughout the North Country.

The district has started off this school year with a total of 561 K-12 students, plus 35 in pre-K at St. Agnes School. The elementary school has 232 students, 31 of them in this year’s kindergarten class. There are 135 students at the middle school and 194 students in high school.

Not including the district’s pre-K students, Lake Placid’s enrollment has declined by more than 14% since the 2017-18 school year.

The district serves an area that saw a population decline in the 2010 census and is expected to see further population decline in the 2020 census, with the exception of the town of Wilmington, which has seen population growth throughout the last few decades.

The district also serves an area that continues to face an affordable housing crunch.

Long Lake

Superintendent Noelle Short said the district has 68 K-12 students enrolled this year. The enrollment at Long Lake Central School has risen from 54 five years ago, but Short said, long-term that the number “ebbs and flows.”

She said this means the size of the schools remain “steady,” adding that she believes that is a good thing.

One student in the district is working remotely, Short said. She said adapting to school during a pandemic has gone smoothly, in part because of the district’s small size. She said they have set up outdoor classrooms around the campus, and with nice weather have enjoyed learning in the sun.

By the Numbers: Local school enrollment

These numbers are unofficial, either reported by schools to the Enterprise or taken from a statewide COVID-19 Report Card established by state Health Department, which includes enrollment numbers provided by schools. Schools are listed from most populous to least populous.

Preschool enrollment is not included. An asterisk (*) indicates the district also hosts preschool.

AuSable Valley Central School District (K-12)*

2020-21: 1,133

2019-20: 1,125

2018-19: 1,150

2017-18: 1,125

2016-17: 1,130

2015-16: 1,115

2014-15: 1,180

Saranac Lake Central School District (K-12)

2020-21: 1,099

2019-20: 1,163

2018-19: 1,152

2017-18: 1,148

2016-17: 1,196

2015-16: 1,224

2014-15: 1,266

Tupper Lake Central School District (K-12)*

2020-21: 802

2019-20: 762

2018-19: 770

2017-18: 758

2016-17: 802

2015-16: 783

2014-15: 803

Lake Placid Central School District (K-12)

2020-21: 561

2019-20: 606

2018-19: 625

2017-18: 656

2016-17: 651

2015-16: 660

2014-15: 664

Northwood School (Private, Lake Placid, 9-12)

2020-21: 187

2019-20: N/A

2018-19: 193

2017-18: 160

2016-17: 175

2015-16: 175

2014-15: 170

Keene Central School (K-12)

2020-21: 157

2019-20: 156

2018-19: 163

2017-18: 170

2016-17: 168

2015-16: 166

2014-15: 179

Long Lake Central School (K-12)

2020-21: 68

2019-20: 65

2018-19: 61

2017-18: 61

2016-17: 61

2015-16: 57

2014-15: 54

North Country School (Private, Lake Placid, 4-9)

2020-21: 67

2019-20: 76

2018-19: 79

2017-18: 70

2016-17: 55

2015-16: 75

2014-15: 90

St. Bernard’s School (Catholic, Saranac Lake, K-5)

2020-21: 63

2019-20: 68

2018-19: 85

2017-18: 77

2016-17: 73

2015-16: 64

2014-15: 56

St. Agnes School (Catholic, Lake Placid, K-3)*

2020-21: 48

2019-20: 43

2018-19: 46

2017-18: 42

2016-17: 45

2015-16: 42

2014-15: 40

Adirondack Christian School (Baptist, Wilmington, K-12)*

2020-21: 30

2019-20: 30

2018-19: 26

2017-18: 28

2016-17: 21

2015-16: 19

2014:15: 17

Northern Lights School (Waldorf, Saranac Lake)*

2020-21: 0

2019-20: 3

2018-19: 8

2017-18: 6

2016-17: 10

2015-16: 3

2014-15: 5

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