NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski released an updated Norwalk Public Schools enrollment report Tuesday.
NPS has 273 more students than it had a year ago, he said. The report shows 116 more students than NPS had on Oct. 1.
Three of Norwalk’s four middle schools are overcapacity, and English Language Learners (ELLS) comprise 18 percent of the school population, Adamowski said. There were 136 more ELL students on Jan. 1 than were counted on Sept. 13, a total enrollment of 2,127 according to the information provided. It’s 86 more than on Oct. 1.
Adamowski defended unflattering numbers for the Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC) by announcing that it would be best if a new location were found for the Norwalk Senior Center. The two institutions share the old Roosevelt Center and if the seniors moved out, the preschool could expand.
Enrollment has been a hot topic, as NPS is overcrowded. Norwalk is attempting to build two new schools; the Ponus Ridge Middle School expansion should be complete this year but the planned new school at the Nathaniel Ely site hasn’t gotten off the ground. This is holding up the renovation of the Concord Street school.
Adamowski commented that Norwalk needs to start planning for a third new school. A plan to build a new Cranbury Elementary is being floated and there’s talk of a new Norwalk High School.
The statistics for middle schools were:
- Nathan Hale, 622
- Ponus Ridge, 680 (capacity 650)
- Roton, 571 (capacity 550)
- West Rocks, 728 (capacity 650)
The statistics on pre-K enrollment with SpEd status showed that there are 91 SpEd students at NECC and 63 typical. Federal law requires a 50-50 mix; the ratio is 59-41.
NPS doesn’t have the capacity to add more typical students because it’s short two classrooms, Adamowski said.
“This has been an area of discussion between myself and the Mayor for over a year now,” Adamowski said. “It’s very clear to everyone that we need to take the other side of the school building where the senior center is co located with the early childhood center, but thus far the city is unable been unable to find a location for the senior center. But this is a pressing issue.”
It’s expected that the SpEd preschool enrollment will grow, he said.
Adamowski spoke of an influx of 300 ELL students, mentioning that new school staff have been hired to deal with the influx, per the special appropriation recently authorized.
The Sept. 13 figure led to the request for the funding. Adamowski said a year ago that English Language Learners were up to 16 percent of Norwalk’s school population. On Tuesday, he said it’s 18 percent and 25 percent is considered a tipping point.
“At that point there is a need for additional services. But there is also a very significant burden on the classroom teacher in terms of the amount of time that has to be devoted to the number of students who are learning English,” he said.
The ethnic makeup hasn’t changed since the start of the school year, he said:
- American Indian .143 percent
- Asian 4.65 percent
- Black 15 percent
- Hispanic 52 percent
- Multiracial 2.6 percent
- Hawaiian/Pacific .09 percent
- White 25.5 percent
The free and reduced lunch component of the school population is at 57 percent. “Remember, five years ago when I became Superintendent we were teetering around 49 percent,” he said.
Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell pointed out that Adamowski recently said that poverty is the driver for underachieving academics.
“Should we consider some sort of associated economic balancing throughout the district, such that we are trying to make sure that no school is up at a 75 percent poverty rate, while others in the same grade levels are sitting at 40 percent?” she asked.
When the CCJEF (Connecticut Coalition for Justice Education Funding) case was settled last year, one of the greatest changes was a switch from using racial balance as a factor to using economic balance, Adamowski said. The Raleigh-Durham School District had a policy to balance schools economically for years but about five years ago dropped it partially because parents hated the frequent redistricting.
“I’m not aware of any district in Connecticut that has done this,” Adamowski commented. “I think the opportunities for economic integration in Connecticut lie more between districts in areas because we have so many small districts.”
The Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula could be changed to encourage Norwalk’s suburban neighbors to admit low income students from Norwalk, emulating a Hartford practice, Adamowski said.
“I think that that is going to be the future,” he opined. “I would never recommend us trying to parse this out, given the number of low-income students we have but clearly there is a compelling case to look at this regionally.”
Board Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux observed that student demographic conversations have prompted a “focus on it as students who are taking something away.”
“I just want to frame the conversation as all of these students, ELL students, students with disabilities, every population of students that we have are an additive to the whole of our community,” she said.
Meyer-Mitchell agreed and said that Brookings Institute studies show that “shortly in the next few years, America as a whole will tip over into a minority/majority country.”
She spoke of “pearl clutching about our district tipping over into a minority majority district,” when “it’s just happening across the country.”
“We can choose to be afraid or we can choose to celebrate,” she said. “I think we should choose the latter.”
Corrections: This story was copy edited at 1:20 p.m to insert Nathan Hale in the list of middle schools and that it’s the Norwalk Early Childhood Center, not Academy.