To no one’s surprise, the ACPS enrollment data show that significantly more children are enrolled in our schools this year compared with last year. The 4.4% increase over 2013-2014 is slightly above the average increase over the past eight years.
Total enrollment at the end of October was 14,157 students, an increase of 594. ACPS has 34% (3,600) more students now than when the Class of 2015 finished elementary school. To appreciate the scope of the capacity challenges that lie ahead, consider this: There are 734 seniors and 1,425 kindergarteners.
The middle school student population grew by 6.0% last year, compared with 5.4% for high school and 3.4% for elementary school. There was growth at every grade level except for 1st grade and 11th grade. The largest increases occurred in the 2nd, 8th and 9th grades. The city and school staff year-ago projections for total enrollment this year were off by only 46 students.
Enrollment growth on the west end of the city was higher than in the central and east regions. The International Academy at T.C. Williams, which is for students who are recent immigrants to the U.S., enrolled 100 new students. The new Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 school enrolled 446 students, 90 more than last year, but still well below the capacity of the new building.
The kindergarten capture rate—the percentage of live births to Alexandria residents five years ago that enrolled in ACPS—was 56.0%, down to a more typical level after rising to 66.2% in 2012-2013. But the number of births in the city has been rising, as has the “cohort survival rate,” the number of students who continue from one grade to the next. Since 2007, the cohort survival rate has increased at all three levels—elementary, middle and high school.
The city planning office has been working with ACPS facilities staff to fine-tune the estimates of how new housing developments will affect future enrollment. To form these projections, they begin by looking at the type of housing where current ACPS students live–single-family houses, townhouses, apartments, etc. They also look at how the number of students generated by each of these types of housing (as well as the size and price of the unit) has changed over time. For instance, when Cameron Station was developed, school officials underestimated how many new students would be generated there, and the adjacent Samuel Tucker Elementary School was already filled to its 600-student capacity when it opened in September 2000. It now serves 751 students.
The planners also factor in the age of the housing stock, because brand new housing units attract fewer buyers with school-age children than older housing units. For example, townhouses that are 40 years old or older generate about twice as many students as townhouses built since 2000.
According to the city planners, nearly all of the increase in enrollment since 2007 has come from the existing housing stock. That suggests that fewer families are electing to move to the outer suburbs for larger houses and yards when their children reach school age. Whether that is a temporary consequence of the recession and its immediate aftermath is yet to be seen.
The Long Range Educational Facilities Plan, a joint effort of ACPS and the City of Alexandria, is incorporating all of this information into projections that will be used to update planned capacity improvements over the next several decades.
Bottom line: Enrollment is poised to continue growing over the next decade, both from existing housing as well as newly-constructed and yet-to-be-constructed units that will eventually be populated with more families with children. This will have a significant impact not just on our schools, but on other city infrastructure that serves families, such as playgrounds, playing fields, recreation centers and swimming pools.
A Common-Sense Approach to T.C. Lights
T.C. Williams parents Bill and Bonnie Rossello have written a thoughtful Letter to the Editor on the topic of T.C. stadium lights that stakes out some much-needed common ground between the affected neighbors and the community. Their son Will was a member of last year’s T.C. Williams state championship boys’ soccer team.