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Enrollments Up at Lanesborough, Williamstown Elementary Schools
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:40AM / Thursday, September 16, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After an expected pandemic-fueled bump in the number of families home-schooling in the 2020-21 academic year, the Mount Greylock Regional School District is seeing increases at both its elementary schools over and above pre-pandemic levels.
The regional school committee last Thursday heard preliminary enrollment data for its three schools. Although the official date to report a head count to the state comes on Oct. 1, the early numbers show significant increases at Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary.
At the former, which had 198 pupils enrolled for 2019-20,there were 209 pupils as of the first week of school. At Williamstown, there were 417, eight more than the 2019-20 academic year, and the principal reported that more pupils are in the pipeline.
"We ended up opening a fourth section of kindergarten," Principal Cindy Sheehy told the School Committee. "We really felt like with the [social] distance requirement of 3 feet, while we could maintain that distance requirement with three sections, it felt like the learning environment itself would really suffer from what we wanted a typical kindergarten classroom to look like.
"We have enrolled 52 new students just in Grades 1 through 6, with an additional 10 students who we have enrollment papers for already. It's being processed by the main office. So we're currently at 417 with an additional 10 within the next 72 hours. We're seeing growth at every grade level, which has been great."
If the numbers seen last Thursday hold, even without the additional 10 in Williamstown, they would represent increases of 2 percent at that school and 5.5 percent at Lanesborough above the pre-pandemic levels.
At the middle-high school, enrollment is lagging slightly, with 531 students as of last week. Mount Greylock had 553 students enrolled in the 2019-20 academic year (the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020).
But even with that 4 percent increase in the middle-high school, the district's overall preliminary enrollment of 1,157 beats the December forecast of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which predicted the district would have 1,070 students — 8 percent fewer than the current actual figure.
"I'm very heartened by these numbers," Superintendent Jake McCandless told the School Committee. "Tomorrow, we have a countywide superintendents' meeting. I'm interested, selfishly, to do some comparison of notes. … I'm interested to see if this is something that's true across the county or something that's more true here.
"Whether it's COVID-related and people wanting to be away from urban areas, whether it's people being pleased with what we're trying to do here in combination with new housing opportunities opening up, I am heartened by these numbers and look forward to seeing where they are in October. … I'm really optimistic about these elementary school numbers. I think it speaks of good things to come."
A couple of School Committee members used Thursday's meeting to press McCandless for information about how the district is helping students overcome learning gaps from the pandemic.
McCandless said preliminary data, including last year's standardized test scores, indicate that, overall, the district's students were able to make progress during the year.
"For students that were in mostly stable home environments where the connection to school stayed relatively constant, the learning loss is not proving out to be as drastic as I was worried about as a dad and my wife was worried about as a mom," McCandless said.
That said, there were significant gaps for some students, McCandless said, and he expressed confidence in the district's teachers' abilities to find and address them.
"All of our teachers, in their planning for the summer, there's always a time at the beginning of the year where you're assessing where people are relative to where you want them to be at the end of the year," he said. "We agree it's a big concern, and we share the concern. This is what educators do. This is what educators do when times are great. This is what educators do when times are difficult."
As for the COVID-19 pandemic itself and its effect on the start of the school year, McCandless reported that "people not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly" was not an issue at the district's three schools when classes began this month.
District Business Manager Joe Bergeron reported that, as of Thursday evening, just more than a week into the school year, a little more than half of the Mount Greylock student population had submitted proof of vaccination; the remainder either had not submitted documentation, the documentation had not been processed or they were not yet vaccinated.
McCandless called health and safety "the foundation of everything we do" in the district in 2021-22.
"What it's really all about is making absolutely certain that we don't have a whole class, let alone a whole school, not in session in person," McCandless said. "That's why we're doing this. We want to stay in person."
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