PITTSFIELD >> Another annual census has seen another drop in student enrollment for the Pittsfield Public Schools — this time a decline of 135 students from the figure reported last October for the prior school year.
However, the enrollment figures do contain some bright spots, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis said while briefing the School Committee recently. One is that middle school enrollment increased by 34 students this year, they said.
There still is a "clear disparity" between the totals for fifth-grade classes and those going into the middle school level at Grades six through eight, McCandless said in a subsequent interview. A number of families continue to send their children to the charter school in Adams or to neighboring town schools for a variety of reasons, he said, but this fall both Reid Middle School and Herberg Middle School added students for an increase of 34 overall.
Reid School had an enrollment of 547 on Oct. 1, up 28 from 519 the prior year, and Herberg School enrollment stood at 638, up 6 from 2014.
Another factor lowering the overall student enrollment figure, McCandless said, is a new district policy that is raising the minimum age for a student to enter kindergarten. The effect this fall lowered kindergarten class numbers across city elementary schools.
Students previously could begin school in the fall if their fifth birthday was before Dec. 1 of that year, but that date now is Oct. 15 and will become Sept. 1 next fall, meaning kindergarten classes should continue to be affected during the change.
Curtis reported to the committee that there was an elementary school decline of 88 students overall over last fall's total.
The official counts for public school districts are recorded as of Oct. 1 each fall for reporting to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and this year it was set at 5,700. That figure in the Pittsfield schools is down from 5,835 recorded on Oct. 1, 2014, and it continues a general decline in enrollment over the past decade.
In 2000, there were 6,848 students in the Pittsfield schools; in 2005, the figure was 6,577. Pittsfield reported a total enrollment in October 2014 that was under 6,000 for the first time in recent history. Enrollment was reported at 6,005 in 2013, and 6,161 in 2012.
However, the overall increase at the middle school level was "very positive" news, Curtis and McCandless said. Officials have noted a decline in middle school enrollment that reflects families deciding to send their children to schools outside the district when they reach that level.
Curtis reported that the 5,700 enrollment recorded for the 12 Pittsfield schools on Oct. 1 is somewhat misleading in that enrollment can fluctuate often, especially in the fall. Enrollment was recorded at 5,736 on Sept. 1, rose to 5,744 on Sept. 3 and declined to 5,700 on Oct. 1.
Any daily figure is "a snapshot," he said, and as of Oct. 28 the figure had risen again to 5,724.
At the high school level, Taconic High reported 731 students on Oct. 1, down 44 over 2014, and Pittsfield High was at 903, down 31 students.
McCandless said there is hope that once a new Taconic High School is constructed, beginning next year, more city students are likely to remain here or choice into Pittsfield, particularly because of enhanced vocational programming.
The district also is considering ways of more effectively promoting the many programs offered in Pittsfield, some of which are not offered in surrounding districts, and continuing to improve Advanced Placement, arts or other course options where city schools have excelled.
At the elementary level, Allendale School enrollment was down 25 students to 292; Capeless School was down 28 to 211; Conte School was up 18 to 386; Crosby School was up nine students to 421; Egremont School was down 24 to 492, in part reflecting an effort by the district to reduce average class sizes there; Morningside School was down 17 students to 456; Stearns School remained at 234 students, and Williams School was down 21 to 315 students.
McCandless said there is some study data that indicates Pittsfield enrollment will level off while enrollment in surrounding districts continues a long-term decline. But other information indicates city enrollment also will continue to drop, he said.
What is certain, he said, is that discussions about sharing services among Berkshire County districts or merging programs will continue and probably accelerate.
The enrollment report also reflects a changing racial demographic in Pittsfield schools over the past decade. McCandless said the data is primarily required for use by the state.
Based on the state reporting categories used by all districts, city schools reported having 4,040 students classified as Caucasian, compared to 5,415 in 2005; 654 students classified as black, compared to 711 in 2005; 421 bi-racial students, up from 24 in 2005; 471 Hispanic students, up from 332 in 2005; 108 Asian/Pacific Islander students, the same number reported in 2005; and 20 classified as American Indian/Alaskan, up from 12 a decade ago.
The report also included the number of home-schooled students within the district this year, McCandless said.
The total was recorded at 72 students on Oct. 1. Since 2003, the numbers have fluctuated between 53 and 84 students.
At a glance ...
A look at enrollment in Pittsfield schools in 5 year increments beginning in 2005:
October 2005: 6,577
October 2010: 6,120
October 2015: 5,700
Pittsfield: 2005, 988; 2010, 980; 2015, 903
Taconic: 2005, 1,049; 2010, 926; 2015, 731
Herberg: 2005, 764; 2010, 634; 2015, 638
Reid: 2005, 688; 2010, 619; 2015, 547