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Enrollment numbers are dropping across DeKalb County. Here's what superintendents think about it

Though enrollment figures at school districts across DeKalb County show a dip due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more parents keeping kids at home, data from the districts show a private school had the biggest percentage drop in enrollment.

According to enrollment numbers provided to the Daily Chronicle from six county schools, St. Mary School of DeKalb actually had the biggest percentage drop for enrollment this year.

“We had a lot of families choose to home school this year due to the pandemic,” said Ashley Davis, principal of the K-8 Catholic School, in an email to the Chronicle. “However, we did gain more new students due to the local public schools in DeKalb and Sycamore doing remote learning during this time.”

“I am glad that parents have a choice in what they want best for their children during these unprecedented times.”

St. Mary’s enrollment dropped from 195 on its sixth-day enrollment in 2019 to 179 this year. The 8.9% drop was ahead of Genoa-Kingston District 424 (7.1% drop) and Sycamore District 427 (6.1%).

Indian Creek’s enrollment dropped 2.9% and DeKalb District 428 had the smallest drop of 2.6%. Hinckley-Big Rock was down 4.4%.

Fluctuations are standard from year-to-year, and some districts like Genoa-Kingston were in a downward trend over the past couple of years anyway, said Genoa-Kingston Superintendent Brent O’Daniell.

According to its Oct. 1 enrollment numbers, Genoa-Kingston had 1,494 students enrolled, a drop off from the 1,600 students enrolled in the district on Oct. 1, 2019.

O’Daniell said families electing to homeschool played a big part in the drop. He said he expects the district will have an annual enrollment of between 1,600-1700 when things return to normal.

“If we were to go back and look at all the families who chose to homeschool … if we took those numbers out I think it would be much more representative to be a more normal type enrollment expectation,” O’Daniell said. “Once the whole COVID thing sorts itself out, I expect several of those families would come back. They told us they would come back.”

DeKalb interim superintendent Ray Lechner said he felt the dip for his district – 6,691 total enrollment on Sept. 17 compared to 6,863 on Sept. 17, 2019 – was within the bounds of normal year-to-year fluctuations.

“Honestly, I expected the numbers to be lower because of COVID,” Lechner said. “I was surprised it was only 172 students. … My experience elsewhere tells me this is in the normal range.”

Lechner said the numbers averaged out to about 30 students per grade level, a number he said isn’t noticeable when spread out among a district DeKalb’s size with multiple classes and schools per grade level.

Lechner added he didn’t think parents homeschooling their children due to the coronavirus played a significant role in the reduction.

“I don’t think so here cause I haven’t heard that conversation going on,” Lechner said. “People that might homeschool, because of remote learning, they are using that. But I think if we went back and did not give the choice for remote learning, they would homeschool for sure. There’s a group of parents that want to continue remote until this virus is taken care of.”

“What’s the advantage of homeschooling over remote learning?” Lechner said. “That, I don’t know.”

Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder saw his district’s enrollment drop from 3,781 on the sixth day of school in 2019 to 3,565 on the sixth day of school 2020.

He said he had no hard data, just anecdotal evidence, but felt the dropoff is temporary and related to the pandemic.

“I just think there is a group of parents, students, that wanted to be in school somehow or wanted something different than our remote plan was providing,” Wilder said. “They chose something different based on their needs. And that’s certainly not a criticism at all. Everybody is looking for what fits their needs best, and until we get to some kind of normalcy, I think parents and students are looking for what options are out there.”

Wilder said he didn’t feel this decrease was due to an overall increase in population in the community. He also said that short-term changes don’t impact state funding, although if the district kept falling in size over the next two or three years, that would have an impact.

And while the district leveling out at around 3,500 students would be felt in a number of arenas, Wilder was optimistic the numbers will go back up.

“We probably wouldn’t see anything drastic if it flatlined at 3,500,” Wilder said. “Again it’s too early to tell. Once we start bringing students back, or we get to the point where there’s a vaccine or we get into Phase 5 and a full return. Again parents will be in the same boat. They have decisions to make and options, and we would need to give some time for it to play itself out.”

O’Daniell said his district’s decrease also hasn’t really had a day-to-day effect on the operations of the district.

“It’s pretty well business of usual,” O’Daniell said. “We are seeing increased class sizes in our lower elementary, which is good for long-term planning. We’re a little thinner through the middle grades, like fourth through eighth. We’re hoping that trends continue in our lower grades which could bring out enrollment back up again.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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