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November 5, 2014 Published in Editorials

Behind The Numbers

Alexandria City Public Schools released its fall membership statistics last week. The number of students attending in the district grew by 594 over last year’s actual numbers. The growth was evident across all grade levels with elementary schools increasing by 249, middle schools by 156 and the high school including the Minnie Howard campus by 189.

Actual growth differed a bit from the growth that was projected. The elementary schools have about 125 fewer students than were projected even though several – notably John Adams and Jefferson-Houston – showed increases of 50 or more students above projections.  This marks the second year in a row that the elementary schools were under projections. Last year it was under by 160 students.

The number of kindergarten students overall pretty much mirrors projections. Within the schools, there is great variance. A very small amount of the growth is due to expanded pre-K activity.

The middle schools marked their third straight year of exceeding projections although at 63 students it is the smallest difference of those years. This difference is even greater if the middle school students at Jefferson-Houston are factored in.

The high school, boosted by Minnie Howard’s exceeding projections by 156 students, grew by 108 students. There were fewer students in grades 10, 11 and 12 than were projected. This marks the third year in a row the high school has exceeded projections and the growth was somewhat greater this year than last though neither approached that of two years ago.

Alexandria’s student numbers look healthy and relatively stable across ethnic and economic groups. There is some good news in that the district has held at or below its kindergarten projections for the last two years. If growth occurs in kindergarten it will spread throughout the higher grades in subsequent years.

Growth is spread throughout the system. All elementary schools have more students this year than they did last year or the year before with the exception of Cora Kelly and Lyles-Crouch. The declines in these two schools are only 20 to 40 students.

The most interesting facts surround the growth above projections at the middle and high school level. It is clear that these schools are attracting students at a significantly higher rate than expected. The Alexandria City School Board should ask the Superintendent to study these increases and provide an explanation for them. If students are going to flow into our system at higher rates in middle and high school then planning will have to be done to accommodate them.

The City, which is grappling with budget issues, cannot take much comfort from these numbers. School enrollment is continuing to grow in ways that has not been foreseen. More students means more demands on revenues that are growing exponentially slower. Members of the City’s working group on long-range enrollment projections clearly have their work cut out for them. Council will have to choose from among competing demands or continue the string of annual increases in the real estate and other taxes.

While financial issues remain, the Superintendent and School Board can take comfort that the schools remain attractive to parents as a place to educate their children. Our citizens should also take note of this fact. It may be moving in fits and starts but the schools seem to be improving their image as places where students can achieve.

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