Student enrollment at public and private schools in the Tri-Lakes appears to be holding steady overall, with some schools showing small increases and others showing modest declines as the new school year begins.
The Enterprise collected five years of enrollment data this week for each public school district and private school in the area.
Among public schools, the area's largest district, Saranac Lake, saw a slight increase of eight students, from 1,314 last year to 1,322 this year. The district's enrollment hasn't moved much over the last five years, with a high of 1,336 in 2009-10 and a low of 1,300 in 2011-12.
ON THE UPSWING — First-grader Anna Lopez swings on the St. Bernard’s School playground on Thursday, the first day of the new school year, while Principal Ray Dora gives another student a push. The Catholic elementary school in Saranac Lake has a big kindergarten class and therefore has seen its enrollment rise a little this year over last.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
The other local public school system to see an increase in enrollment was Keene, which has two more students than last year: from 166 to 168.
The other two public schools in the Tri-Lakes saw their enrollment continue to drop.
Tupper Lake lost another 10 students; it had 796 last year and has 786 registered this year. Five years ago, the district had roughly 100 more students.
Enrollment at the Lake Placid Central School District fell from 705 students last year to 666 this year. Four years ago, the district had 725 students.
Lake Placid school Superintendent Roger Catania said he isn't surprised about the numbers dropping a bit, because it's a widespread trend.
"It's across the North Country; it's across the Northeast. I think it reflects a number of issues," Catania said. "This is a broad, global issue. I don't think it is purely local, so I would hesitate to see us making only local judgments or local solutions, based on the fact that it's widespread."
He said Tri-Lakes area schools are going to continue to have to deal with shrinking enrollment in coming years.
Northern Lights School in Saranac Lake, which follows a Waldorf method of education, is enjoying a significant boost, although it's still one of the area's smallest schools. This year it's up to 38 students overall, 21 in kindergarten through third grade. Last year it had 21 overall, with 11 in kindergarten through second grade.
One reason is that Northern Lights is now part of the Saranac Lake school district's state-funded universal pre-kindergarten program, so some students can go there tuition-free for pre-K. Another reason is that second-graders are staying on for third grade; the school continues to add a grade a year at the top end since it dropped all grades above kindergarten in 2010. Also, some families that recently moved to Saranac Lake are sending their kids to Northern Lights, according to administrative assistant Patty Beauharnois.
"It says a lot for Saranac Lake, because people are finding jobs here and moving into the area," she said.
In Lake Placid, National Sports Academy is down from 60 students last year to 48 as of this week. The private school, which starts in eighth grade and goes through post-graduate years, almost closed last year due to severe budget deficits. It was restructured, with many leaders on its staff and board replaced. In addition to private loans, the school borrowed $200,000 from the village of Lake Placid's Revolving Loan Fund.
Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Mike Broderick attributed this year's enrollment drop to last year's financial crisis. He's one of the school's new staff members.
"They wanted us to tighten up admissions and really sell the school and rebrand," he said.
Broderick said NSA's numbers have come up since he started there in mid-July, coming from a school in Western New York.
"But now at least we're covering budget," he said. "The school now is on solid financial footing. If it weren't, I would've stayed in Buffalo."
The school is adding some new teams and plans to rebuild its skiing program, Broderick said.
Lake Placid's Northwood School has 173 students, the same as last year and similar to what the private high school has had over the last few years.
North Country School, a grade-4-to-9 boarding school where students do farm chores on top of their studies and activities, is also holding steady in enrollment. This year it has 85 students, down slightly from last year's 87. It had 94 students in the 2009-10 school year.
The area's two Catholic schools are seeing slight increases in enrollment. In Saranac Lake, St. Bernard's Catholic elementary school has 53 students this year, up from 51 at the beginning of last year.
St. Bernard's will have one of the biggest kindergarten classes it's seen in years, according to Principal Ray Dora - 20 kids, well above last year's class of eight and the biggest it's seen in about 10 years. The school will have two kindergarten classes this year.
Dora couldn't pinpoint one specific reason why kindergarten enrollment was so high this year.
"It seems to be a large number of them are young families and new families to the school," he said.
Meanwhile, the school lost a few students in grades 1 to 5. Grades 3 and 4 will share a main teacher, although they'll be separated for math, reading, social studies and religion.
Enrollment at St. Agnes School in Lake Placid continues to edge upward. The school, not including its robust preschool program, has 31 students in kindergarten through third grade, up from 26 three years ago when it dropped grades 4 and 5.
Tri-Lakes school enrollment by the numbers
Saranac Lake Central School District
Tupper Lake Central School District
Lake Placid Central School District
Keene Central School
St. Bernard's School
(Catholic, Saranac Lake, K-5)
St. Agnes School
(Catholic, Lake Placid)
2013-14: 31 K-3 (91 with preschool)
2012-13: 29 K-3 (83 with preschool)
2011-12: 26 K-3 (69 with preschool)
2010-11: 28 K-5 (66 with preschool)
2009-10: about 40 K-5
Northern Lights School
(Waldorf, Saranac Lake)
2013-14: 21 K-3 (38 with preschool)
2012-13: 11 K-2 (21 with preschool)
2011-12: 14 K-1 (32 with preschool)
2010-11: 10 K (33 with preschool)
2009-10: 17 K-3 (33 with preschool)
North Country School
(Private, Lake Placid, 4-9)
(Private, Lake Placid, 9-12)
National Sports Academy
(Private, Lake Placid, 8-12 and post-graduates)
Mountain Lake Academy
(Behaviorally challenged males, Lake Placid, age 12-21)