K-4 demo study shows level enrollment

This year, Shelton’s primary schools — those with students in kindergarten through fourth grade — welcomed 139 new pupils. While that represents an uptick of approximately 10% overall, district-wide enrollment is expected to remain relatively level over the next five years, with some schools posting increases while others experience decreases.

Those were some of the results of a redistricting study recently conducted in Shelton by Cheshire-based engineering firm Milone & MacBroom. The firm’s principal planner, Rebecca Augur, gave an overview of the redistricting study at the Shelton Board of Education’s Dec. 19 meeting.

The main takeaway from Augur’s presentation was that school boundaries are likely to shift, but where and by how much is still to be determined. Consequently, the Board of Education is still several months away from redrawing district lines.

The Milone & MacBroom study focused on the K-4 student population, for a key reason. That particular age cohort is where population trends are expected to show the most impact on school enrollments.

“Overall, children’s births among city residents have been on a downward trend since 2000, with a brief birth bubble in 2017,” said Augur. “The lowest birth years were in 2014 and 2015, which will be in the incoming kindergarten classes for 2019 and 2020.”

Different areas of Shelton are experiencing somewhat different population trends. Neighborhoods on the city’s north end are aging, with a 50% increase in residents older than 65. And although that is projected to result in a downturn in school enrollment in the short term, the long-term effect might be the reverse.

“To us, that is housing that is ripe for turnover, because many of those older householders will look to downsize to smaller homes,” she said.

Trends have been the opposite in other parts of Shelton, particularly neighborhoods east of Route 8. Increased numbers of births and an influx of new residents are expected to result in enrollment growth at Sunnyside and Long Hill Schools.

“Overall, you are getting older — as is the rest of Connecticut,” Augur said. “But you are seeing factors to balance that, such as new families moving in with children.”

The stronger real-estate market has had a positive impact on school enrollment.

“Housing sales in Shelton are up 70 percent since 2011,” said Augur, “and condo sales more than doubled during the same period.”

New apartment complexes — especially those with two- and three-bedroom units — have also brought families with children to the city.

The increase by 139 new pupils primarily comes from in-migration, Augur said. “It represents almost 10% of the overall student population [in those grades], and this year’s kindergarten class is the biggest since the 2008-2009 school year,” she said. “Just 31 of those students are in families who bought homes — the remainder are from families who rent.”

Board member Darlisa Ritter said the study’s conclusions could be somewhat misleading because of the temporary “birth bubble” recorded in 2017. Augur noted that the resulting figures must take that into account, but that a level trend line can be calculated which discounts its impact.

By shifting enrollment boundaries, the Board of Education will aim to level enrollments throughout the district, thus avoiding the prospect of some schools being under-crowded while others are overcrowded.

“We will also look to standardize ‘room deployment’ throughout the district,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet, referring to special-purpose classrooms, such as a reading lab or a music room. The goal is for all schools to offer the same number of such facilities.

“We will be having public information sessions as the details become clearer as to exactly where we will be drawing school district lines,” said Clouet.

A remaining wild card in any analysis is the impact any future development would have on enrollment numbers. The redistricting study took into account all existing and proposed  development, but that would not include any new projects that are still in more preliminary stages: No such proposals have arrived at City Hall.

The Huntington Townhomes complex on Bridgeport Avenue offers a case study in how apartment construction can have a dramatic impact on student enrollment. The complex was built about a decade ago as an Avalon development and has since changed hands. Several dozen public school students now live at the complex.

“It is important for town officials to look at the price point and the size of the units at Huntington Townhomes,” said Ritter, because of its demonstrated popularity among couples with school-aged kids. Similar complexes can be expected to have the same impact, she noted.
Honoring innovation
Among other business, Amanda Wandishioin received the board’s monthly Innovative Educator Award. Wandishioin is a fourth grade reading and literacy specialist at Elizabeth Shelton Elementary.

The monthly award honors teachers who help students to realize their potential as 21st Century learners. In particular, Wandishion was cited for her use of Newsela, an online news resource, in student reading assignments. Newsela, which is an online instructional content platform that aims to “supercharge reading engagement and learning in every subject” via nonfiction articles that are automatically matched to a student’s reading level.

Wandishion has built a reputation for innovation. To further boost student engagement, she secured grant money to purchase a set of classroom microphones to enable students to give formal presentations about each Newsela article they read.

“This builds on reading comprehension by also boosting the students’ public-speaking skills and confidence,” Wandishion said.