School enrollment trends mixed in Tri-Lakes

Saranac Lake High School (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

The Lake Placid and Tupper Lake school districts are entering a new school year with the fewest number of students in attendance in more than a decade. Saranac Lake Central School District is entering the new school year with a slight uptick in enrollment over last year.

Enrollment at Tupper Lake is down by 8.9% this year over last year, according to enrollment data provided by the district. Lake Placid is down by 0.3%. Saranac Lake’s enrollment has increased by 0.7% this year over last year. Although Saranac Lake had the highest enrollment of any district in the Enterprise coverage area for many years, last year and this year, the AuSable Valley Central School District has surpassed Saranac Lake in enrollment.

The enrollment numbers for each school district reflect the fact that some parents have opted to home-school their children this year. Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Timothy Seymour said normally there would be 10 to 15 families in Lake Placid homeschooling their children, but this year, “it’s trending more toward 25.”

For many years, local school superintendents have also pointed to a lack of affordable housing as a factor driving down enrollment numbers. Some superintendents say the affordable housing crisis in the Tri-Lakes region, and the rising housing costs not only in this region but across the country as demand continues to outpace supply, continues to have an impact on public schools.

Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett said the people who are buying houses in the current housing boom here are mostly baby boomers moving away from cities. Bartlett said some families also relocated during the pandemic, to find better jobs elsewhere.

Keene Central School District Superintendent Dan Mayberry said although the school saw a small uptick in enrollment last year because of the pandemic, those students have since “moved back to wherever they came from.”

The enrollment numbers also reflect a steady downward trend in enrollment at Tri-Lakes area public schools since the early 2000s.

AuSable Valley

Enrollment at AuSable Valley Central School District has been stable for the past 10 years, according to district Superintendent Paul Savage.

Around a decade ago, the district lost about 300 students in a short period, which was difficult for school programs and funding, according to Savage. Now, the “consistent number around 1,130-plus students for the past 10 years” has provided the district with some stability.

“(It’s) important for budgeting, great for planning and avoiding the ups and downs associated with bigger losses,” he said.

In the past, Savage has also attributed the district’s high enrollment to the large geographical area it encompasses, 300 square miles. He has said the area is “ripe” for people moving in because of building projects and the district’s close proximity to other population centers.

Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake Central School District has 1,110 students enrolled currently, a rise from last year, but still a low number, historically. SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox said the district is seeing the same decline as others in the region for a variety of reasons.

Low school enrollment is just a symptom of the bigger problems, she said — the housing crisis, the loss of well-paying jobs and the barriers to middle-class life in the Adirondacks.

The district reports local employment opportunity numbers to the state each year. In the past decade, Fox said the area’s biggest employers, who all offered good pay and benefits, have decreased employment.

The top five for Saranac Lake — American Management Association, Adirondack Health, Trudeau Institute, North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College — had 1,895 positions in 2012. In 2020, they reported 1,220, a loss of around one-third.

Fox said these lost positions have not been replaced in the community.

Fox said 500 jobs have been lost at the state-run Adirondack Correctional Facility and Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook in that same time period.

Fox also said it’s hard for people moving to the area to find middle-class housing. The housing crisis is another barrier to families moving or living here, she said.

With all these struggles, Fox said it is more than one entity or committee can fix.

She said schools are at the intersection of the many layers of community troubles and that the school community has also been involved in helping find solutions.

Tupper Lake

Tupper Lake Central School District’s 736 student enrollment this year is the lowest the district’s seen in over a decade.

“That continues the trend that we’ve seen for forever,” Bartlett said. “As long as I’ve been in Tupper Lake.”

Tupper Lake’s population, specifically its young family population, has been declining in recent years — Bartlett said TLCSD graduates who go on to get college degrees or jobs in other places can’t always find those jobs available here. They can’t move back and start a family.

He was asked if the district can do anything to get the numbers back up.

“Short of encouraging population growth?” Bartlett asked, laughing.

Bartlett said he finds the Tupper Lake Business Group’s work on increasing tourism encouraging.

There are positives and negatives to having low enrollment, Bartlett said.

With smaller classes, the district is able to spend around $2,000 less per student than the state average. But there are also fewer opportunities — fewer accelerated classes, clubs and sports.

“It takes a baseline number of people to get those off the ground,” Bartlett said.

Lake Placid

The Lake Placid Central School District has hit its lowest enrollment in at least 12 years.

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.

Seymour also said that, if he had to theorize, he would say that with remote learning inserted into the mix over the past year and a half, some families may have found that learning remotely works better for them.

“I think that, coupled with some ongoing concerns about transmission of the virus, may be leading to a greater number of homeschool students right now,” he said.


Enrollment at Keene Central School has been somewhat steady over the past decade. This year, the district has its highest enrollment since 2017 and 10 more students than last year.

“We have a larger Kindergarten class coming in this year, that has definitely helped,” Mayberry said.

By the Numbers: Local school enrollment

These numbers are unofficial and reported by schools to the Enterprise. 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)*

2021-22: 1,155

2020-21: 1,133

2019-20: 1,125

2018-19: 1,150

2017-18: 1,125

2016-17: 1,130

2015-16: 1,115

Saranac Lake Central School District (K-12)

2021-22: 1,110

2020-21: 1,099

2019-20: 1,163

2018-19: 1,152

2017-18: 1,148

2016-17: 1,196

2015-16: 1,224

Tupper Lake Central School District (K-12)*

2021-22: 736

2020-21: 802

2019-20: 762

2018-19: 770

2017-18: 758

2016-17: 802

2015-16: 783

Lake Placid Central School District (K-12)

2021-22: 559

2020-21: 561

2019-20: 606

2018-19: 625

2017-18: 656

2016-17: 651

2015-16: 660

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

2021-22: 187

2020-21: 187

2019-20: N/A

2018-19: 193

2017-18: 160

2016-17: 175

2015-16: 175

Keene Central School (K-12)

2021-22: 167

2020-21: 157

2019-20: 156

2018-19: 163

2017-18: 170

2016-17: 168

2015-16: 166

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

2021-22: 79

2020-21: 63

2019-20: 68

2018-19: 85

2017-18: 77

2016-17: 73

2015-16: 64

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

2021-22: 76

2020-21: 67

2019-20: 76

2018-19: 79

2017-18: 70

2016-17: 55

2015-16: 75

Long Lake Central School (K-12)

2021-22: 65

2020-21: 68

2019-20: 65

2018-19: 61

2017-18: 61

2016-17: 61

2015-16: 57

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

2021-22: 52

2020-21: 48

2019-20: 43

2018-19: 46

2017-18: 42

2016-17: 45

2015-16: 42

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

2021-22: 40

2020-21: 30

2019-20: 30

2018-19: 26

2017-18: 28

2016-17: 21

2015-16: 19

Northern Lights School (Waldorf, Saranac Lake)*

2021-22: 0

2020-21: 0

2019-20: 3

2018-19: 8

2017-18: 6

2016-17: 10

2015-16: 3


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