Greenfield public schools see steep drop in enrollment 

  • Data from the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education shows a sharp decline in student enrollment between fall 2021 and fall 2022. STAFF GRAPHIC/ MARY BYRNE

 Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2023 5:10:51 PM

GREENFIELD — The School Department started the school year with 158 fewer students than last fall, making for one of the sharpest declines in enrollment the district has seen in recent history, according to enrollment data for the past decade. 

Between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, student enrollment in Greenfield schools dropped from 1,604 to 1,446 students, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The decrease continues a steady downward trend in enrollment for a district that, about a decade ago, had as many as 2,146 students. 

“We should all be very concerned about that,” said Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who also serves as a member of the School Committee.

Based on a review of enrollment data over the last 10 years, enrollment has fluctuated between 20 and 40 students from year to year. One notable exception to this was the decline in enrollment between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, which saw a difference of 173 students.

That particular decline, however, mimicked the sharp drop in student enrollment seen at public schools nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, which coincided with the transition from remote to hybrid education in many districts, the number of students attending public schools fell by 3%.

At a recent School Committee meeting, Wedegartner noted that in addition to an increase in charter school enrollment this year, the number of families using School Choice — the state law that allows families, by right, to enroll students outside their home school district — has also increased. 

“That has implications for state funding we will receive, plus I think that speaks to people, unfortunately, voting with their feet on the district,” she said. “I think we all need to double down on how best to improve our school district.”

Superintendent Christine DeBarge, however, clarified that at this point, the district is in a “hold harmless” condition, which allows school districts to retain the amount of Chapter 70 aid they receive even if enrollment drops. 

The decline in enrollment didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to Chair Amy Proietti, who noted the U.S. Census data has long projected Greenfield’s population to decline “indefinitely.” More recently, she said, a report by New England School Development Council (NESDEC) noted that based on a trending national decline in births, the number of kindergartners is expected to decrease over the next few years. 

“We need to do what we can do to serve our students in the geographic area to the best of our ability and be willing to be creative and innovative about how we do that,” she said. 

Proietti also spoke strongly against School Choice and the impact it has on already struggling rural districts. 

“There is no worse policy in our state for our school district than School Choice,” Proietti said. “It pits rural school districts against one another.”

According to DeBarge, 30 students, including some who had not previously been in the district, applied this year to leave the district through School Choice. She also noted, however, there were nine students who used School Choice to attend school in the district after moving out of the city.

Still, School Choice, Proietti argued, was the biggest problem for Greenfield’s student enrollment. 

“I grew up in New York; people in New York think it is ludicrous that we allow people to send their kids to different schools,” she said. “It makes your schools better if you're forced to educate the people that are there, and not allow them to choice out. … We’ve allowed this to go on for two decades.”

School Committee member Kate Martini, who shared with committee members that she had used School Choice to send her two children to another school within the district, said there needs to be an acknowledgment of problems in the district and an openness to collaborate with others on how to solve them. 

“I firmly believe that Greenfield is the right place, right now,” she said, “and not because of a focus on all the positives, although I appreciate them … but because of the substantive improvement the district has made and the dedication to improving instructional practices.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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