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Student numbers level in Lake Placid, AuSable Valley, Keene

September 19, 2017
By PETER CROWLEY - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

School enrollment has been shrinking since the 2000s in the Tri-Lakes area, overall, and that trend continues in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, where the public school districts started this semester with significantly fewer students than a year ago.

Meanwhile, Lake Placid, AuSable Valley and Keene public schools hung on with student counts similar to last year's.

Among private schools, Northwood in Lake Placid has intentionally lowered its numbers while two small religious schools are pleased to see theirs increase. And a Waldorf school in Saranac Lake is starting to outgrow its space with preschoolers, although that hasn't yet led to more kindergartners.

Article Photos

A Lake Placid Elementary School student gives two thumbs up on the first day of classes, Sept. 7.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)


Smaller grades in Saranac Lake

The reason behind the Saranac Lake Central School District's 4 percent enrollment drop is pretty simple: Last year's high school senior class had 112 students and was the last grade left with more than 100 - and the 77 new kindergartners this fall are perhaps its fewest ever.

"I'm hoping the 77 is a glitch," Superintendent Diane Fox said.

It may not be, though. She said district officials expected a small kindergarten class this year when they saw universal pre-K numbers in the 30s last year. This year there are 36 in Saranac Lake's UPK, only slightly more than last year.

The district's total enrollment now stands at 1,148, down from 1,196 last year and 1,500 a decade ago in 2007. Most grades are now in the 90s, with ninth-graders being the second-smallest at 84, according to Fox.

"The positive side of that is small class sizes," Fox said. One might think another silver lining would be the ability to reduce staff and, therefore, taxes, but Fox said that while the district did cut kindergarten from five sections to four, it balanced that ut by having to add a teacher to a larger-than-average first grade.


Teens leave school in Tupper

The Tupper Lake Central School District had more than 1,000 students in 2007, according to Enterprise reporting at the time. By 2012 enrollment had slipped below 800. It peeked back above 800 in 2014 and 2016, but this year it tumbled 5.5 percent to 758.

Superintendent Seth McGowan linked that to a particularly high dropout rate among last year's high schoolers, the highest he's seen during his many years as superintendent.

Often, he said, "The things that prevent kids from graduating from high school are not curriculum and instructional. ... It's mental health. It's social and well being."

Most of the students who left Tupper Lake High School last year had social or mental health needs, McGowan said. Going back to when last year's seniors were freshmen, he said, a higher-than-average number of students were involved with substance abuse and/or in foster homes, he said.

"That's more becoming the norm," he said.

Looking at the general trend of decreasing school enrollment in the region, McGowan attributes part of that to decreasing family size. He doesn't have statistics on this, but he said, "I don't think we have fewer parents of kids living in the community." Parents just don't have as many children as they used to.


Placid hangs in

The Lake Placid Central School District has held between 650 and 670 students since 2013.

"We had our smallest class in a while graduate last year," Superintendent Roger Catania said. "I think it was 43, and we had about the same number of kindergartners come in this year, maybe a hair more."

Meanwhile, the district had 12 more students transfer in than transfer out.

"We're hangin' in there," Catania said.


AuSable stabilizes

"We're not really seeing any big bumps or changes," AuSable Valley Central School District Superintendent Paul Savage said. "Stability is good."

AuSable had a big enrollment drop between 2014 and 2015, but it's roughly held even for the last two years, dropping five students from last year to 1,125.

Its kindergarten numbers are up this year, too, especially in the Keeseville end of the district. It has 93, significantly more than Saranac Lake's 77.


Northwood School

Northwood School's enrollment has been rock-solid in recent years, almost always between 170 and 180. This year, though, it's down to 160, an 8.6-percent drop from 175 last September. Assistant Head of School Tom Broderick said that's "a strategic choice" - a shift to be more selective.

The goal was "to right-size the school," he said. "We've found we serve our students better when we have around 160 to 165."

Last school year, Broderick said Northwood had its lowest attrition rate in several years - only three or four kids left mid-semester - and the school wants to keep things that way by raising the bar. It significantly increased its applicant pool, he said, and "that means that you can get a better quality of student."

The school also has more day students than in the past, as opposed to boarders, and it's putting new emphasis on ninth and 10th grades. Northwood typically has far more upperclassmen than underclassmen, but this year's freshman class of 32 is the largest Broderick has seen in his 30 years at Northwood. There are also 34 sophomores, plus 51 juniors and 43 seniors.


Adirondack Christian School

The Adirondack Christian School, located behind Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington, saw its enrollment jump by a third. There are only 28 students spread over kindergarten through 12th grade, but that's seven more than last year.

That's a nice present for the 50th anniversary of the school, which was founded in 1967.

There are also 31 pre-kindergarten students, which could bode well for its future.

Director and Principal Harold Akey attributed the growth to three things: First, it has advertised more; second, it has used preschool as a feeder program; and third, it started an associate's degree track for high schoolers. These classes aren't a partnership with North Country Community College, as in some local high schools; they're either taught in house or through distance learning.

Adirondack Christian School is associated with Calvary Baptist Church, but anyone can go there.


Catholic schools solid

St. Bernard's, a Catholic K-5 school in Saranac Lake, has increased enrollment every year since its 2010 low of 45. Founded in 1922, it started this semester with 77 students, more than it's had in more than a decade. That's a 5.5 percent rise from 73 a year ago. It graduated eight fifth-graders in June and brought in 15 kindergarteners this fall.

"I think a lot of people choose St. Bernard's because of the small school atmosphere," Principal Ray Dora said. "Certainly some are choosing it because they are Catholics, but people also choose it for the values education we provide throughout the year."

Lake Placid's Catholic school, St. Agnes, is holding steady at 42 in grades K to 3 and 109 including preschool.


Northern Lights School

There are more kids than ever in this Waldorf school in the lower level of Saranac Lake's First Presbyterian Church - 46 - but only six of them are kindergartners. Twenty are 4-year-olds - 16 of those are in publicly funded UPK - and 20 more are 2 or 3, according to Erika Kahkonen, the school administrator since 2013.

She said the biggest reason for this year's increase is that the school got some grants for tuition assistance, which now helps 14 students attend. She hopes the growth will lead to more kindergartners.

It's getting to the point that Northern Lights is outgrowing its yard, she said. On Monday, under a bright Indian summer sun, that yard was full of children happily playing with sand, sticks, pots and pans.

"The more we have students, the smaller the current yard feels," Kahkonen said.


North Country School

North Country School saw its enrollment leap from 55 to 70, although that's still the second-lowest count in recent history for the grade 4-9 school where kids from all over the world do farm chores before classes.

The school had 90 students just three years ago. For years it remained steady between 85 and 90, before dropping to 75 in 2015.

The trend was also felt by other traditional boarding schools around the U.S. They blamed it on the increasing popularity of charter schools and independent day schools.

Head of School David Hochshartner has said growth comes from younger day students; it has 20 now along with 50 boarders. The school goes from grades 4 to 9.


Glynis Hart, Antonio Olivero and Aaron Cerbone contributed to this report.


By the #s: Local school enrollment

These numbers are unofficial, reported by schools to the Enterprise during the first two weeks of classes. Schools are listed from most to least populous. Preschool enrollment is not included.

* also has preschool

Saranac Lake Central School District (K-12)*

2017-18: 1,148

2016-17: 1,196

2015-16: 1,224

2014-15: 1,266

2013-14: 1,322

AuSable Valley Central School District (K-12)

2017-18: 1,125

2016-17: 1,130

2015-16: 1,115

2014-15: 1,180

2013-14: 1,162

Tupper Lake Central School District (K-12)*

2017-18: 758

2016-17: 802

2015-16: 783

2014-15: 803

2013-14: 786

Lake Placid Central School District (K-12)

2017-18: 656

2016-17: 651

2015-16: 660

2014-15: 664

2013-14: 666

Keene Central School (K-12)*

2017-18: 170

2016-17: 168

2015-16: 166

2014-15: 179

2013-14: 168

Northwood School (Private, Lake Placid, 9-12)

2017-18: 160

2016-17: 175

2015-16: 175

2014-15: 170

2013-14: 173

St. Bernard's School (Catholic, Saranac Lake, K-5)

2017-18: 77

2016-17: 73

2015-16: 64

2014-15: 56

2013-14: 53

North Country School (Private, Lake Placid, 4-9)

2017-18: 70

2016-17: 55

2015-16: 75

2014-15: 90

2013-14: 85

Long Lake Central School (K-12)*

2017-18: N/A

2016-17: 61

2015-16: 57

2014-15: 54

2013-14: N/A

St. Agnes School (Catholic, Lake Placid, K-3)*

2017-18: 42

2016-17: 45

2015-16: 42

2014-15: 40

2013-14: 31

Adirondack Christian School

(Baptist, Wilmington, K-12)*

2017-18: 28

2016-17: 21

2015-16: 19

2014:15: 17

2013-14: 21

Northern Lights School (Waldorf, Saranac Lake)*

2017-18: 6 (K)

2016-17: 10 (K)

2015-16: 3 (K)

2014:15: 5 (K)

2013-14: 21 (K-3)



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