Officials think losses in county student enrollment leveling off

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

NATCHEZ — Children in Natchez schools aren’t saying goodbye to many of their friends anymore.

A decade of decline in enrollment numbers in the public schools and many of the private ones has leveled off over the last two years, area administrators said.

And the flat numbers, though not as good as growth would be, represent something good for the community — stability.

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Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris said he believes the enrollment figures from the past 10 years were adversely affected by the state of business and economy within the county.

“We’ve had some downsizing with some of the businesses,” Morris said.

In the early 2000s, several industrial plants closed or downsized, including the closure of International Paper in 2003, Johns Manville, Titan Tire and a layoff at Dynasteel.

Morris and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Charlotte Franklin said the changes in local industry drove many families out of the county in search of jobs.

But this year, enrollment at the public schools saw only a 0.7 percent drop — one not worth worry, Franklin said.

Enrollment in the Natchez-Adams School District is 3,957 this year, down only 31 students from last year.

“Thirty students would not be considered to be a significant drop,” Franklin said. “In fact, the numbers are fairly stable if that’s all there is.”

With the numbers leveling and schools retaining children, administrators said they believe not only are students staying in the school system, but businesses, jobs and families are staying in the community.

“We’ve had a steady decline in enrollment of approximately 100 students a year for the past 10 years with the exception of this year,” Franklin said.

Morris said ending the years of declining enrollments is the beginning of growth. Along with the economy’s stabilization, he expects to see recovering numbers in his school district.

“I think and hope this stabilization is the beginning of the turnaround,” Morris said.

Adams County Christian School and Cathedral School saw minimal changes in enrollment this year, while Trinity had a 7.5 percent drop.

Last year enrollment at Adams County Christian School was 410 students; this year enrollment is 408 students.

Cathedral School was the only educational institution to experience growth in its enrollment numbers, growing from 611 students last year to 618 this year.

Cathedral High School Principal Pat Sanguinetti said he did not think the current national economy was an issue within the private school sector of education.

Sanguinetti said there is a continuous fluctuation when it comes to private, Christian educational institutions, and that numbers usually fall further into the school year.

“We get some of theirs, and they get some of ours,” Sanguinetti said. “(Our enrollment) will go down as the year goes on.”

However, Brenda Gousset, ACCS’ bookkeeper, said the economy did come into play for the school’s enrollment numbers.

“I think we lost some (students) last year because of the economy and parents losing jobs and having to move out of the area,” Gousset said. “But people are starting to move into our area.”

Gousset said while ACCS’ enrollment might have dropped slightly for the year, the school’s elementary program is growing to the point that two classes are required to accommodate kindergartners and first and second graders.

And while ACCS is seeing an influx in early elementary children, Cathedral’s Development Office Coordinator Stephanie Matheney said her school is seeing less pre-kindergarten students than usual.

“We have fewer 3-year-olds this year — almost by half,” Matheney said.

Matheney attributes some of the changes in class make-ups to being cyclical based on birth rates differing from year to year.

Trinity Episcopal Day School’s enrollment last year was 333; this year it is 308.