Enrollment not expected to grow

Ellen Essman was the dominant figure at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting at Wilton High School.

Ms. Essman, a certified public accountant as well as an actuary, presented data that showed the 2013 actual enrollment in Wilton public schools to be slightly higher than originally projected. Actual enrollment for 2013 shows 4,224 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, an increase of 45 students. Ms. Essman’s report showed the same total number of K-12 students for 2014.

Ms. Essman used birth rate calculations in a report prepared by Dr. Peter Prowda in November 2008, she said in a letter to the board. Dr. Prowda is a retired state Department of Education demographer, and is  considered an expert on the topic.

A review of the data shows a downward trend over the past three years, with 4,262 students enrolled in 2011, 4,239 enrolled in 2012 and 4,224 enrolled this year. These numbers do not include preschool and out-of-district students. When they are factored in, the number rises by about 90 students (75 pre-K and 20 out-of-district students).

Fifth grade is the largest class this year, with 371 students. Eighth grade is right behind that, with 369.

The projections stretch out to 2021, when it appears that 3,774 students will be in the school district, although these numbers are not intended to be accurate beyond one year.

In her notes, Ms. Essman said there were several variables that would impact enrollment. These include housing, birth rate, preferences of public versus private schools, and economic conditions, among others.

The toughest prediction, she said, is the birth rate, especially for years where children are not yet born, specifically from 2018 to 2021.

“If Dr. Prowda guesses too high,” she said, “our projections will be too high.”

Staying in the present, there are 1,313 students in Wilton High School, with 293 seniors. That number will jump to 326, with a total high school population of 1,373 projected for 2014.

After that, the suggestion is that enrollment will drop annually, with the stated mitigating factors needing to be taken into account.

Ms. Essman did say that historical change is taken into account, and that past trends will continue.

“It is important to note that the projections are most likely to be solid for the grades that are already in school,” she said.

She also indicated that Dr. Prowda has not prepared a report since 2008 and thus, beginning with 2019, she used the projections from the state.

Board member Gilmore Bray questioned if the Dr. Prowda methodology was still accurate, and if it was time to review it.

“There are other enrollment professionals out there,” Ms. Essman said.

“It’s been five years, and I personally don’t feel the outer years are correct,” Mr. Bray said. “I just think they’re incorrect.”

“I think you should look at them,” Ms. Essman said.

SAT scores

Dr. Charles Smith, assistant superintendent, also made a presentation to the board on the topic of standardized testing, including the SAT.

Dr. Smith stressed that the scores are “only a snapshot of a student’s performance.”

“These tests do not measure the day-to-day performance of each student,” he said.

He also said that artistic, athletic, leadership, and interpersonal skills, and “the whole child,” aren’t taken into account.

The tests, however, provide some insight into a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

On a lighter note, in the introduction to the meeting, Board of Education chairman Bruce Likly smiled at the thought of an uninterrupted Halloween for students.

“I’d like to thank the weather gods,” he said as a nod to the wicked weather that had impacted celebrations over the past two years.

The next Board of Education meeting will be on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Wilton High School professional library.