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Enrollment in Somerville Schools Declines Dramatically Over Last Decade

The public schools could lose some 25 students anually over the next several years before seeing an uptick in enrollment, according to the administration.

While enrollment in the city's public schools has been declining for a decade, enrollment in charter schools continues to rise, according to US Census Bureau figures and conversations with school and city officials. 

Enrollment in all Somerville Schools fell more than 1,400 students from 2000 to 2008, according to data from the 2000 Census and from the National Center for Education Statistics. And enrollment in Somerville Public Schools has declined on average almost 10 percent from 2004 to now, said Gretchen Kinder, a spokeswoman for the district. School and city officials have attributed the decline in enrollment to several circumstances.

Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi recently stated that there are fewer families living in the city than a decade ago. And indeed, 2010 US Census Bureau figures show that Somerville’s population decreased 2 percent over the last 10 years from 77,478 to 75,754.

At the same time, Pierantozzi and city spokesman Michael Meehan have both speculated that more 21 to 35 year olds, (who account for40 percent of the population), have moved into the area but are marrying later and having fewer children. And when they do, data shows they tend to move to cities with cheaper housing, like those outside Greater Boston. 

Meehan noted that 10 years ago, students were children of the Baby Boom Generation. But now, students are children of Generation X, a much smaller generation that had fewer children. 

What's clear is that parents who stay in the city are enrolling their children in charter schools more and more. Pierantozzi has said that charter schools like Prospect Hill Academy have recruited parents more aggressively, and now they enroll hundreds of Somerville children.

Indeed, Prospect Hill Academy's Head of School Jed Lippard told me that enrollment has "gone way up" since the the academy added a third campus and a second building for the upper school. The academy enrolls a total of 1120 students, 430 of whom live in Somerville. 

In response, Pierantozzi and his staff plan to mail pamphlets to families whose children attend the academy to encourage them to learn about Somerville Public Schools.

In the meantime, Kinder said that the district expects enrollment to continue to decline approximately 25 students per year for the next three or four years. But she said enrollment in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes has already increased by 7 percent.

“As those students enter our schools and age through grade by grade, they will impact the numbers... if everything else stays the same,” she said.

As enrollment has declined, the district has lowered the number of students per class, which has created empty seats in classrooms and smaller grade sizes. The district has also opted not to replace all of the teachers and teacher's assistants who have left and has reduced the administrative staff, said Pierantozzi.

During the 1980s, former Mayor Gene Brune closed school buildings because there weren’t enough students to sustain them, Meehan said. The current School Committee has just begun to discuss closing school buildings and consolidating schools, as well as possibly building a middle school, after the

NoTyme4BS March 30, 2011 at 10:47 PM
I do not live in Somerville but grown up there & went to Somerville public schools from grades K-12. I would love to send my child to Somerville public school if it was allowed and since my child has been put on the wait list for Prospect Hill Academy for the last 4 yrs. I live in Chelsea and refuse to send my child to a chelsea public school so I pay to send her to a Catholic School in Somerville.
Ellenor March 31, 2011 at 11:16 AM
I don't think that people are leaving for "less expensive" suburbs, necessarily. We know families who have moved to Lexington, Winchester, Arlington, etc, none of which is less expensive. Families are looking for single family homes, big yards -- neither of which is easy to find in Somerville -- and excelllent schools. If Somerville is going to keep families here, maximizing green space -- like extending the bike path -- and keeping the schools at the forefront will be crucial.
Jeff Levine March 31, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Many families want to send their kids to the Somerville Public Schools - and most people I know at least start out in them. The challenge is keeping them past 3rd grade, when the performance differences between kids get more pronounced and kids start to get bored in school. Its also hard to feel good about the fact that kids don't start foreign languages until 9th grade in most cases, when all the research suggests that learning languages is much easier when they are younger. I will keep my kids in the Somerville schools - where we are generally having a good experience - until I feel that it is not working for them. Unfortunately, there is a cyclical effect of some parents leaving, leading to more parents who can afford to leaving, etc. While I generally think the schools are doing what they can with the resources they have, there is a systematic problem that the schools having in serving a diverse population with limited funds.
Somerville Home Owner March 31, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I wonder what's the strongest factor in why families move to other suburbs like Arlington, Lexington, etc. Is it the space or is it the schools? In other words, if the schools were on par with those towns would people stay even though they wouldn't be able to get a single family home and big yard. I know I would, but I wonder what others think. I'm asking because quality schools is a combination of demographics and funding. Most of the towns with good schools have a fairly homogeneous population which makes it "easy" for them. When you have socio-economic diversity, deep pockets becomes much more important to give the adequate challenge to top students and adequate attention to others. And even then, the public perception will never be on par with homogeneous schools because of the published statistics. In other words, towns populated with only upper-middle class folks are highly likely to have schools with nearly 100% of the students scoring in the top ranks and going to the best colleges in the country. So even if the curriculum for the top students in the diverse town is on par with the curriculum for the students in the affluent homogeneous town, the affluent homogeneous town will look better on paper.
Jeff Levine March 31, 2011 at 03:48 PM
From what I see, its the schools, and not necessarily the actual experience of the schools, but more often a fear of what may lie ahead. Families I know generally move around 2nd-4th grade because they are worried about the experience in 6th grade and beyond. But that's not a scientific survey.
Paula Woolley April 01, 2011 at 01:08 PM
I've known many families who've moved over the years because, although they feel elementary school is fine, they're worried, as Jeff says, about the later years. (And I do feel the middle school years, 7-8, need to be improved. Fortunately the district is working on that issue.) But as for high school, here's some food for thought: I know two families who moved to Lexington (1 from Cambridge) whose kids are now at Lexington High. First, the family from Somerville felt their older kids had a better experience in Somerville elementary schools than Lexington's because (1) Somerville teachers and the overall school environment was better & more encouraging for "different" or quirky kids for a variety of reasons, and (2) Lexington was really drilling the MCAS prompts and rubrics, especially in middle school writing, to make sure they kept their scores high. Second, once the kids from both families hit high school, there was a feeling that only kids who were "perfect" at a given subject or afterschool activity should participate in it. So, while my son started taking Honors classes and getting involved in several SHS afterschool activities and sports in freshman year and started taking AP classes sophomore year, his friends in Lexingont have yet to take an AP class; they've taken only a few honors classes; and only 1 has just started to do 1 afterschool activity. Somerville schools aren't perfect, but neither is life. Kids will thrive here, esp if parents get involved.
Paula Woolley April 01, 2011 at 01:20 PM
I ran out of space! I totally agree with Amanda's comment: "quality schools is a combination of demographics and funding. Most of the towns with good schools have a fairly homogeneous population which makes it "easy" for them. When you have socio-economic diversity, deep pockets becomes much more important to give the adequate challenge to top students and adequate attention to others. And even then, the public perception will never be on par with homogeneous schools because of the published statistics." Somerville schools are doing a really good job considering all the balls they have in the air. You can't compare the scores or 4-year college attendance rate to those of suburban schools with few ELL or low-income students; it's comparing apples to oranges. Good teachers in Somerville will work with kids at different levels, and by high school it's amazing how many of the kids who graduate at the top of their class came here with no English and are going to Ivy League schools. Isn't that a success story we should all be celebrating? In addition, the high quality voc-ed program provides another path for students (and more of them are going on to college too). Finally, for those aiming to have a child who attends a highly selective college: when colleges admit students, they compare those students to other students at their high school. And the most selective colleges seem to have quotas of how many kids they can accept from each school.
Somerville Home Owner April 01, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Jeff & Paula: Thanks for your inputs. And Paula that is a success story if immigrant children with no English accomplish enough to make it into top schools. I'm assuming those are kids that came at a young age, but that is still a success worth bragging about. I wonder how well those students do in those universities. Are they adequately prepared to succeed? I don't know if the selective colleges have quotas, but it is true that you will have a harder time standing out from your peers if everyone is at your level. But at the same time, if everyone is at your level you are likely to be challenged more and the curriculum can go at a faster and more rigorous pace. In any case, it's good to hear positive things about Somerville schools.

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