Enrollment dropped for local public, private, charter schools

Second-graders in Carol Keating's classroom at St. Brigid's Catholic School in Xenia learn about synonyms Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.
Second-graders in Carol Keating's classroom at St. Brigid's Catholic School in Xenia learn about synonyms Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

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Ohio public school enrollment decreased 3% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, and a Dayton Daily News analysis shows that local schools tended to follow the statewide drop, regardless of whether they were charter, private or public school districts.

Ohio Department of Education officials said preK-12 school enrollment had not dropped by more than 0.4% in any of the previous three years. But data comparing October 2019 (pre-COVID pandemic) to October 2020 was different:

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** 40 of 44 Dayton-area public school districts saw their preK-12 enrollment decline, ranging from a drop of a couple students, to an 8% decline.

** 9 of 12 larger local private schools had K-12 enrollment declines, with one school down over 10%.

** Local charter schools were more mixed, but total enrollment was down over 2% there as well.

Two ways that public school enrollment dropped without private school enrollment rising were an increase in homeschooling, as Centerville experienced, and some families waiting another year to have their child start preschool or kindergarten because of COVID concerns, as Mad River schools mentioned.

Centerville’s enrollment dropped from 8,406 to 7,887 from October 2019 to October 2020, according to ODE — a loss of 519 students that made them one of eight local school districts to dip by more than 6% in those 12 months.

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Superintendent Tom Henderson said the number of Centerville students being home-schooled has risen from 200 to 252 to 397 in the past two years, contributing to his district’s drop during the pandemic.

But Henderson said enrollment has increased by about 70 students since late summer.

Valley View was another school district where enrollment dropped over 6% from pre-pandemic to last October, from 1,813 students to 1,702. Superintendent Ben Richards said Valley View’s decision this fall to adjust as local COVID data changed caused some whiplash. Some families left the district for a more locked-in option, whether that was a fully online charter school or fully in-person private school.

“At times this year we have been two days a week, four days a week, and remote. We are now back five days a week,” Richards said. “From conversations with parents, some of them preferred (other) options just to have a continuity of schedule. … Now that we are returning to a more traditional schedule, we are seeing students coming back.”

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Another enrollment change this year was more students choosing online charter schools. Many families who were frustrated with how school went in spring 2020 sought out schools with established remote-learning plans.

Four statewide online charter schools (Ohio Virtual Academy, Alternative Education Academy, Ohio Connections and Great River Connections) saw their combined enrollment grow by 12,600 students from Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2020, according to ODE, even as brick-and-mortar charter school enrollment declined slightly, both statewide and in the Dayton area.

Jason Swinehart, school leader for Great River Connections Academy, called their approach “a highly individualized learning environment” this month as the school aimed to boost enrollment further.

The four local school districts that saw an increase in enrollment were tiny Jefferson Twp. and three small Miami County districts — Bradford, Miami East and Bethel. Bradford Superintendent Joe Hurst cited improvements from upgraded school and athletic facilities, to a Chromebook for every student and small class sizes.

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Bethel is the fourth-fastest growing district in the state, according to superintendent Justin Firks, in large part due to the Carriage Trails residential development. They hope to open a new K-5 school building in fall 2023.

Among private schools, Alter, Carroll, Chaminade-Julienne and Troy Christian all saw enrollment declines from 2019 to 2020, while Dayton Christian stayed exactly flat at 655 students, according to ODE.

Enrollment at St. Luke elementary in Beavercreek dropped 14% from 322 to 276.

“We had students go to online charters, we had parents choose to homeschool … and we lost military families. I think not as many were transferred in due to COVID,” St. Luke Principal Leslie Vondrell said. “But people have started coming back now.”

Principal Matt Sableski said Carroll High School retained almost every family from last year, thanks to “our teachers’ tremendous response” and an online option for families uncomfortable with in-person classes. But enrollment still dropped from 735 to 705.

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“Due largely to economic factors, we, like many Catholic schools across the country, have seen a modest decline in enrollment over the last couple of years,” Sableski said.

Mad River Schools Treasurer Jerry Ellender said his district’s 6.8% enrollment drop could be traced to military families moving away, some families choosing home-school or charter schools, and parents delaying their child’s kindergarten start.

“We normally have a 15% mobility rate, so moving to other districts is normal but the overall decline in students is not normal,” Ellender said.

Top public school enrollment changes, Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2020

-7.95% — Twin Valley

-6.82% — Mad River

-6.72% — Tipp City

-6.56% — Covington

-6.36% — Cedarville

-6.17% — Centerville

-6.12% — Valley View

-6.08% — West Carrollton

****

+0.45% — Bethel

+0.85% — Miami East

+2.61% — Bradford

+3.83% — Jefferson Twp.

Top charter school enrollment changes, Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2020

-34.8% — Dayton Business Tech HS

-22.5% — Dayton SMART Elementary

-20.5% — Fairborn Digital Academy

-20.4% — Summit HS Dayton

****

+8.8% — Emerson Academy

+11.8% — Urban Early College Network

+12.3% — Trotwood Prep and Fitness

+20.0% — Liberty HS

Private school enrollment changes, Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2020

-14.3% — St. Luke Beavercreek

-10.1%* — Alter HS*

-5.5% — St. Peter Huber Heights

-5.4% — Troy Christian

-4.1% — Carroll HS

-2.6% — Chaminade Julienne HS

-2.4% — Incarnation Centerville

-2.0% — St. Helen Dayton

-0.5% — St. Charles Kettering

0.0% — Dayton Christian

+4.5% — Bishop Leibold Miamisburg

+10.4% — Immaculate Conception Dayton

*- Alter officials say their enrollment dropped from 532 to 514 students, not 572 to 514 as ODE’s data says. That would be a 3.4% decline, rather than a 10.1% decline.

ODE information for many local private schools was incomplete.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education

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