JACKSON – The Jackson Township School District has seen a steady decline in enrolled students, but officials said the numbers are not worrisome.
“Although enrollment has decreased, in a district our size those decreases are spread out over 10 schools, each of which have multiple grade levels. So the impact on each school or grade level is spread out throughout all of our schools and grades,” superintendent Dr. Stephen Genco told The Jackson Times.
Figures provided by the district show a decrease of 725 students from October 15, 2012 to October 14, 2016, from 9,094 to 8,369.
Jackson Memorial High School has seen the biggest drop in enrollment, losing 135 from 2012 to 2016. Rosenauer School has gained two students in those years, the only to school to have netted an overall gain.
“It’s hard to quantify what schools have gained or lost the most in the last five years because we have made programmatic changes over the years, including expanding our pre-Kindergarten program and moving the location of some special education programs to different schools based on needs,” Genco said.
The decrease in enrollment hasn’t impacted state aid, officials said, which was slashed in 2009 (as it was with most school districts across the state), and has stayed more than $1 million below the usual state aid since then.
The district will receive $50.7 million in state aid.
Officials would not speculate on reasons for the drop in enrollment, but said the drop has actually helped the district in some ways.
“Enrollment changes have given us the opportunity to expand programs and meet state mandates. For example, we were able to implement full-day kindergarten, which is something we have wanted to do for a very long time and something that strengthens the foundation of a child’s entire educational experience,” Genco said. “We have also been able to satisfy state mandates like the requirement to offer additional pre-school seats so that special education pre-school students and general education pre-school students can share experiences.”
The district does keep abreast of development in town so decisions on program locations and need can be located.
“We are aware of the growth in various areas, including the Jackson 21 projects which depending on the phase will have varying levels of impact for us over the next few years. We have zoned that area to attend school in the nearby Elms Elementary School, which has enough breathing room to handle the students from that area when they come.” Genco said.
He said as residential developments are approved by the township, the district begins to plan should they eventually be built.
“Keeping an eye on development helps us plan, but at the end of the day we have the responsibility to educate all the students who enroll in our district. Sometimes that means moving programs, sometimes it means altering class sizes or configurations and in dire circumstances over the past 10 years it has meant building schools or continuing the use of trailers. How we adapt can take many forms, but we are confident in our ability to figure out the best way to handle any enrollment that comes our way,” said the superintendent.
The district is seeing an increase in English Language Learners, which did require an addition of a teacher this school year to meet those students’ needs. In addition, the district is seeing increases in their aid in lieu of payments to private school students who attend school two to 20 miles from their home.