A new report indicated Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) enrollment could stagnate over the next few years.
In a meeting of the City Council and the School Board yesterday, it was clear that stagnation is causing some in city leadership to look skeptically at some of the school district’s ambitious capacity-increasing programs planned over the next few years — the modernization of George Mason Elementary School in particular getting name-dropped.
In a joint presentation, the City’s Director of Planning Karl Moritz and ACPS’ Executive Director of Facilities Erika Gulick said that baseline enrollment — that’s enrollment without new development factored in — shows ACPS population peaking around FY 2025 with 15,668 students.
“[One] of the major [factors] we haven’t seen bounce back from Covid is birth rate,” said Gulick. “That continues to decline over time. With lower numbers of babies, we’re anticipating lower numbers of kindergarten enrollment.”
Gulick said the decline in birth rate has stuck around long enough that it’s no longer an anomaly: it’s a trend.
Even so, Gulick noted that the numbers that factor in children expected to come into Alexandria with new development projects show some continued student enrollment increases.
“Based on that projection, we’re losing close to a thousand kids over the next ten years,” Gulick said. “We don’t actually think that’s going to happen given the amount of affordable housing development that the city is focused on, because we do tend to have a lot more students that live in affordable units… I don’t want people thinking ACPS is losing a thousand students; we generally think we’ve hit our peak and we’re going to plateau.”
Once new development is factored in, that projected stagnation isn’t as intense and peaks in 2029 at 16,404 students. Even so, those projections show as many years where enrollment declines as there are years where it increases.
Mayor Justin Wilson noted that the plateauing of student enrollment in ACPS could have a significant impact on what capacity projects move forward.
“This is really interesting information,” Wilson said. “[It’s] a little bit of narrative busting here in a lot of ways. Like you said, it is a projection and we have to be careful not to read too much into it, but we’re looking at a projection that shows with the impacts of development we get back to pre-pandemic levels within a decade. That’s a pretty provocative projection. And without them: a significant enrollment decline.”
Wilson said in elementary schools the drop is particularly significant.
“If you look at baseline projections, not with development, we’re looking at elementary going from 8,000 to bottoming out in 2030 at less than 7,500.,” Wilson said. “That’s without development.”
Wilson said the drop in enrollment seems at odds with some of ACPS’ modernization plans.
“Our next priority is George Mason, which is seeing the largest drop,” Wilson said, and noted that George Mason has little by way of major developments planned nearby. “That means that most of those kids are coming out of a school like that… I’m not saying not to do Mason, but I want to make sure we’re looking at the big picture.”
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If you had a chance to enhance a child’s future with a time commitment of less than 2 hours a week, how would you respond? You have that opportunity right now to join over 200 Alexandrians as a reading tutor volunteer with the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC).
ATC tutors work with one child in kindergarten, first, or second grade in Alexandria public schools who need extra help with reading. Tutors meet with their Book Buddy 1-2 times each week for 30 minutes October-May at school, during school hours. Many struggling readers only receive one-on-one instruction through this program, and it makes all the difference. Last year, ATC served 195 children, of whom 82% ended the year reading on grade level and 96% made substantial reading gains. But the need is great, and we are still seeing learning lags from the pandemic.
This year, ATC plans to significantly increase the size of the program to reach over 250 students and to serve every elementary school in Alexandria. This is very exciting news, but we will only succeed if we can recruit more tutors. ATC trains you, matches you with a child, and provides ongoing lesson materials and support.
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