Officials Try to Predict How Many Students will be in the Watertown Schools Next Fall
Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said there is no surefire way to predict enrollment, but they have a good idea. Kindergarten is a particular concern.
Figuring out how many students will show up at the Watertown Schools in September is more of an art than a science, said Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald, but School Committee members said they would love make predictions more accurate so they know how many teachers are needed.
Last spring, the estimate for how many students would enroll in the fall ended up being more than 70 students above the actual number, Fitzgerald said. She also pointed to a recent problem in the Boston Public Schools, which ended up with nearly 350 more students in kindergarten than expected, according to the Boston Globe.
Watertown’s situation is not to the same scale. A projection presented to the School Committee’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee has 1,317 students in the elementary schools next year.
Kindergarten a Concern
An area of concern is kindergarten enrollment. After registrations were completed, the kindergartens at all three elementary schools would have little room for more students without adding teachers.
School officials would like to keep kindergarten classes around 20 students, and the registrations put the Hosmer at 100 students for five teachers, the Lowell at 80 students for four teachers and the Cunniff at 42 students for two teachers, according to school officials.
School Committee member David Leon asked what would happen if a school suddenly got 5 to 10 more kindergartners.
“What we would do is use the pre-K program at each of the schools to make space,” said interim Assistant Superintendent Dari Donovan.
The desired class size for kindergartens is 20, Donovan said, and Massachusetts law says they cannot be larger than 25.
Ways to Predict the Enrollment
Some school districts use the town or city census to determine the number of students coming into the schools, but that does not work in Watertown, said Director of Business Services John Loughran.
“When I looked at the school age population the census had 1,800 students, but we have 2,600 kids in the schools,” Loughran said. “I talked to Town Clerk John Flynn and he said many people in the community refuse to fill out the census.”
Fitzgerald said for most grade levels, the best way to predict the enrollment in the fall is to use the number of kids enrolled in the last few months of the previous school year.
With kindergarten, since students are not yet in the school system, school officials rely on kindergarten registrations. Fitzgerald said she may make the deadline to register for kindergarten earlier so they have more time to prepare.
The problem of enrollment forecasting has long worried school officials, Fitzgerald said, but no one has come up with a sure fire way to deal with it.
“Everyone who has tried to a make mathematical formula to predict enrollment has failed,” Fitzgerald said.
School Committee member Michael Shepard suggested using the data from past years to come up with a plus/minus – a number of students that the predicted enrollment could fluctuate, based on past data.
Using that, the district could prepare for the worst expected scenario.
“You could have the capacity in hand and be ready for the fluctuation,” Shepard said. “You could hire a half (time) teacher.”