By Matt Sutkoski
As students in Williston, surrounding towns and most of Vermont go back to school this week, many are finding fewer classmates, and in some cases, fewer teachers than in the past.
Williston, and the parent Chittenden South Supervisory Union, are no exception to that trend.
Following a statewide trend, enrollment figures continue to drift downward.
Last year, 1,063 students were in Williston schools, according to the town’s school district. That compares to 1,092 a year earlier and 1,134 back in 2010.
Staffing levels have eased downward as well. The Williston School District had 201.72 full time equivalent positions last school year. That’s 10 less than three years earlier.
Most school districts, including Williston, hire demographers to glean hints as to how enrollment figures will change over the course of the next decade or so.
In general, the demography data suggest that in Williston and the Chittenden South district, enrollment will bottom out in about five years then grudgingly begin to increase again.
The long-range enrollment projections are inherently unreliable, because unforeseen factors like a major new housing development, or the loss or gain of a major employer or an unexpected influx or exodus of families can easily change trends.
So Williston schools do little long range planning on staffing numbers, said Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli.
The demographer usually provides updated numbers in November, and the school board takes a close look at where the increases or decreases are occurring to make staffing decisions.
“If the decrease is spread out over the grades, just a few students per grade level, we may not be able to reduce staff. If it is concentrated in kindergarten, first and second grade, then we do make staffing adjustments,” Nardelli said.
One extra complication this year is the long-time demographer for the school district, and many others in northwestern Vermont, Bill Smith, has retired, said Bob Mason, Chief Operations Officer for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.
The school district will need to find a new demographer soon to continue research into enrollment trends.
Mason said the CVU board, and all other town school districts within the supervisory union, take the same tack as Williston. They make staffing decisions based on detailed and updated information received during the fall and early winter.
Champlain Valley Union High School enrollment has slowly dropped in tandem with the rest of the district in recent years. The high school had 1,277 students as of June 1, down from a peak of 1,385 in 2004.
The latest enrollment projections suggest CVU’s student population will slowly fall to below 1,100 within about seven years.
Declining enrollment doesn’t mean a dearth of new teachers. Educators are being hired to replace those who have retired or moved on to other employment.
Marie Eddy, who is starting this year in guidance at CVU, says she’s looking forward to being a part of a vibrant school community.
Eddy said she isn’t really new to the school. She was at CVU for nine years ending in 1998 as guidance secretary, then registrar. Her three children all went through CVU and her husband works there.
Jessica Mongeon, who will teach special education, is also technically not a new educator, but has roots at CVU, having been a paraeducator for the past four years. She’ll work with a wider variety of students and faculty, which she said she looks forward to.
Kylie Wolgamott is a new part-time art teacher at CVU.
“As an art teacher, I always have new lesson ideas that I have developed over the summer that I am excited to share with my students,” she said. “I have heard wonderful reviews of the CSSU district. Every time I mention that I will be teaching at CVU, I hear responses such as ‘my kids went to school there and loved it!’ or ‘The teachers there are great.’ Such positive reviews were a draw to the district,” she said.
Also new this year are math teacher Hannah Carey, English teacher Adrian Walther and special educators Greg Conk and David Richardson.
In Williston schools, many positions left open by retiring teachers and staff were filled by changes in assignments for teachers due to declining enrollment, Nardelli said.
Shannon Baker took over as guidance counselor. Liz Neeld became the executive assistant. Lyall Smith was hired as the head of maintenance.
Williston, district school enrollment in slow decline
By Matt Sutkoski