Norwich - David Klein, the new Head of School, heard some sobering statistics about the Norwich Free Academy, as well as positive impressions expressed in a recent assessment tour by a high school accreditation team.
Klein, who started Oct. 1, attended his first Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday. His first three days coincided with the visit by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The group's report is expected in November.
The October board meeting also annually provides the board with enrollment statistics and projections as well as results of the state Strategic School Profile for NFA.
Finance Director Rich Rand told the board that the declining trend in student enrollment has started. Oct. 1 enrollment totaled 2,315, down from a total of 2,384 a year ago. The projection for Oct. 1, 2012, is 2,160 students. State projections put NFA at 1,980 students by 2020.
"It's verifying that trend," Rand said, cautioning the board that enrollment - and tuition payments - will have a major effect on the budget.
NFA officials have discussed increasing the number of private tuition students, whose families pay tuition. Rand said the school now has 21 tuition-paying students, up from 16 last year.
Curriculum Director Denise Grant gave the board and Klein an overview of the Strategic School Profile, a state report on attributes such as enrollment, demographics, ethnic diversity and technology.
NFA has fallen behind the state in the number of students per school computer, a statistic board members hope to change. According to the profile, in the 2009-10 school year - the last year of available statistics - NFA had 3.3 students per academic computer, while the state average was 2.3 students per computer.
Board member Lee Ann Gomes, a city social worker, said compounding the problem is that many Norwich families do not have access to the Internet at home. Students in low-income families could fall behind in schoolwork, lack access to online instructions or lessons provided by teachers and have no access to SAT practice programs or research.
Grant said she would like to establish a drop-in computer center for students either to do remedial work, SAT practice, research or homework. She also is looking at an Internet access system that would provide a set number of users, rather than tying the access to certain computers. It's possible that students could use the ports at home.
Board member Theodore Phillips said NFA should consider a pilot program in which the school would provide laptops to participating students. The program could lead to NFA providing laptops to all students, he said. Board member Robert Staley agreed, and acknowledged there would be an expense but said that could be offset by a declining use of textbooks.
Klein said students with access to the Internet have academic advantages that are unavailable to those without access.
"Access is very critical, because it becomes an equity issue," Klein said.