The Wellesley School Committee during its first 2023-24 school year meeting heard an initial enrollment update from Supt. David Lussier that suggests the district’s numbers haven’t dropped as far as projected. Declining enrollment has been a big factor in the school system’s decision to consolidate elementary schools from 7 to 6 as it rebuilds Hardy and Hunnewell.
Dr. Lussier emphasized that official numbers won’t be available until October, mainly because there is still plenty of movement happening across the schools. “Our enrollment is very much flexing each day,” Lussier said. Class rosters are expected by the end of September to accurately reflect the number of student who are actually in the schools. Until then, Lussier’s presentation gave an idea of the trajectory the district is on.
Overall, total enrollment of K-12 students in October 2022 was 4,186. The projected number for school year 2023-24 is nearly 200 less than that, at 3,992. The actual enrollment number as of August is 4,085, closer to 100 less students than attended WPS last year.
What’s the diff?
The biggest difference so far is at the middle school level, which had 1,008 students in October, 2022 and 950 in August, 2023—a drop of 58 students; followed by the elementary level, with 1,782 students last fall as compared with 1,728 so far this year, for 54 fewer students. The high school right now reflects an increase of 11 students over the 1,396 number in 2022, bringing enrollment there up to 1,407.
Looking further back, enrollment in Wellesley schools fell 8 percent from 4,426 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in fall 2020 to 4,069 students in fall 2022. In school year 2022-23, 24 percent of school-aged children living in Wellesley did not attend Wellesley public schools. No word yet on those numbers for 2023-24.
Why were the projections off?
While Lussier didn’t comment on specific enrollment numbers related to new families in town at The Nines housing development in the Fiske district, he did say that units there “have been scooped up almost instantly, and that’s easily where we’ve seen the most growth.” The school administration has expected increased enrollment from that population.
But for others, “Between interest rates and the price of homes right now, it’s very difficult for a new family to break into the Wellesley market,” he said.
Another contributing factor to lower enrollment could be that families who once would have moved to Wellesley to be within a decent commute to Boston now might have the option to work remotely and live further away from the city, perhaps having to only go into an office on occasion.
Once the Oct. 1 enrollment numbers are in, expect those managing the school system to take a fresh look at the redistricting plan for the 2024-2025 school year (see the School Assignment & Redistricting Information section of the WPS website). Lussier said not to expect big changes, but possible tweaks in targeted areas.