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New London schools poised to increase enrollment

In a county where some predict a steady decline in the number of school-aged kids over the next decade, New London intends to buck the trend.

New London school officials, who are now in the process of planning out the final phases of the state’s first all-magnet school district, say recruitment of out-of-district students into the city places them in a unique situation.

While other districts might be planning to mothball empty school buildings, New London is building them and projects a steady increase in the number of students to fill those schools.

Between 2010 and 2015, Connecticut's population of school-aged children decreased by 3.46 percent, the sixth highest rate in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Census.

The Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut, in a census-driven study released in 2012, predicts that New London’s school age population will drop from 4,813 in 2015 to 3,836 in 2025.

The school district’s contracted its own study, completed in 2015, to help project capacity for future school construction projects. The New London Public Schools Enrollment Projection Report, prepared for the school board by consultants Milone & MacBroom, predicts both an increase in out-of-district students and residents into the schools.

The Milone & MacBroom study projects a total New London school population of about 3,400 growing to 4,300 by the 2023/2024 school year. The out-of-district student population is predicted to double to about 1,088 with smaller gains in the number of students from the city.

That number will stabilize and the school district will continue to recruit and attract students to meet school capacities at the various schools, said Superintendent of Schools Manuel Rivera.

“What you find is more and more parents want different options. You have to be smart, recruit and promote while informing parents about your programs,” Rivera said. “It is part of what we have to do on an annual basis. We’ve got to have an excellent program. That’s what parents are interested in.”

Rivera said the school system does not have to consistently attract hundreds more students year after year. Some of the system’s magnet elementary schools already have waiting lists.

“Because we’re so small we don’t need thousands of kids to sustain ourselves. Five hundred or 600 more students and we’ll be at capacity,” he said. “All of this goes hand and glove with being able to sustain out-of-district enrollment, about 1,000 at its peak. We’re half way there."

The enrollment in New London public schools was actually on a downward trend until about 2008 at the start of the recession, according to the Milone & MacBroom report.

New London schools started gaining students, “whether through families opting for public schools over private, or through relocations or more affordable housing,” the study concludes.

The New London school district's budget has risen during that time, from $58.2 million in the 2005/2006 school year to the $64.6 proposed for the 2016/2017 school year. The number of teachers has risen from 296.5 to 347 during that time.

Enrollment increases from 2011 on are mostly due to the continuing development of magnet programs which have drawn in and continue to attract out-of-district students. The schools must maintain at least 25 percent out of district students to benefit from increased state funding.

LEARN, a Regional Educational Service Center which operates magnet schools in New London, Norwich, Groton and Waterford, also appears to be positioned to weather any loss of school-age students in the region.

Alex Henschel, LEARN’s coordinator for marketing communications and student recruitment, said LEARN schools typically have a waiting list and are at capacity.

“Recruitment is something we’re always actively doing – trying to find a fit for students,” he said. “Dips (in population) means we do more work to find those students and be competitive. However, we work collaboratively … working together rather than fighting for the last kid.”

Among other schools, LEARN operates the Marine Science Magnet High School, Three Rivers Middle College High School, Dual Language and Arts Magnet Middle School and Regional Multi-Cultural Magnet School. 


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