Northfield Elementary sees uptick in enrollment, adds teacher

  • Northfield Elementary School experienced an uptick in enrollment at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. recorder file photo

  • Northfield Elementary School Principal Megan Desmarais sits at her desk on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/7/2017 10:32:08 PM

NORTHFIELD — When preparing this school year’s budget, Northfield Elementary School Principal Megan Desmarais was anticipating another year with declining enrollment, a steady trend for more than a decade.

But as enrollment numbers took shape in August, Desmarais was surprised to see the slightest increase. The school currently has 188 students in pre-K through sixth grades, compared to last year’s 185.

Looking back at the school’s enrollment numbers, Desmarais explained Northfield Elementary had 301 students during the 2007-2008 school year, and has declined since. Given a particularly large class of exiting sixth-graders last year, Desmarais anticipated having 175 students or less this year, and had arranged staffing levels based on that prediction back in May.

However, with 18 new students in grades 1 through 6 that were not anticipated at the end of last year, and three kindergarten students who enrolled late in the summer, Desmarais had to split both fifth- and third-grade classes, moving teachers between grades and hiring Elizabeth Aekus to teach one of the fifth-grade classes. Desmarais said Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Ruth Miller helped accommodate the need for an extra teacher in the budget.

“These were all just move-ins into town,” Desmarais said of the new students. “It could just be a fluke thing with the housing market and what was available. You just never know.”

The numbers have created some large class sizes, like a 24-student kindergarten class and a 23-student third-grade class.

Desmarais noted trying to sustain high levels of programming, like arts and athletics, at smaller schools is financially difficult, but with steady numbers Northfield Elementary will be “able to continue with those services just the same.”

“To see it leveling out or taking a turn for an increase, it’s reassuring to know we’ll be able to provide the same programming,” she said.

With the anticipated arrival of Thomas Aquinas College next fall — should the college receive approval from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education — Desmarais suspects there might be an increase in students next year, too. She said she plans to reach out to the college mid-year to inquire about staff moving to town, and their elementary school-age children.


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