Return to School Sees Some Slowdown in Enrollment

While enrollment has slowed down some this year, and the numbers coming to Chelsea from Central America aren’t at a breakneck pace, the schools are seeing some upticks from new places such as Puerto Rico – where a plunging economy has seen folks head to the mainland.

“We are a mirror of the world economy; we really are,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “That makes it a fascinating place to work and serve. We serve the people in the country and the world that are the most underserved and disenfranchised …We find a great deal of fulfillment in that. That’s not a bad place to hand your hat as a professional.”

Enrollment in the Chelsea schools and in area schools has been a key number to watch for the last several years. In Chelsea, an influx of immigrants – also called unaccompanied minors – starting trickling into the district from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador three years ago. The numbers hit a zenith in January 2014 and into the summer when things got to a crisis level in Chelsea and nationwide.

Bourque said that has seemed to slow down.

“In some grade levels that has slowed down,” she said. “Our kindergarten numbers are down. It has slowed down from Central America – from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras too. We think there are some changes with the requirements at the border and that has resulted in this slow down.”

However, there has been an uptick in those coming from Puerto Rico – which is an American territory and make the students American Citizens and not immigrants.

“We are seeing an increase of families coming in from Puerto Rico,” she said. “Naturally, those are not immigrant families. There certainly is a connection to the economy in that. Their economy has changed in Puerto Rico. Families coming from there have told us at the Parent Information Center that there is an increase there in violent crime too.”

Many, she said, have fled to the mainland to get away from such things – and with Chelsea having a long-standing Puerto Rican community – the city was a natural landing spot.

Overall, enrollments are increasing mostly in the upper grades, she said.

“Definitely, that is still happening in the upper grades,” she said. “A couple of years ago we had that very large kindergarten and those kids are in second grade now, so we have a bubble there.”

Full enrollment numbers will be clearer after the 15th day of school passes, which is the legal day for enrollment numbers to be solidified.

In other district news:

  • Bourque said they are excited to implement a standard ‘Six District Instructional Practices’ that will standardize classrooms across the district.

“That will allow us to have more consistency from classroom to classroom across the district,” she said.

  • Also, the district is preparing to start meeting this year to form a new five-year vision.

In 2011, the district rallied around the ‘Bridge to Success’ model, and that will expire at the end of this school year. Bourque said they will begin this year in having meetings to form what the new model will be.

“We are entering the fifth year of a five-year plan and we are excited about the changes we’ve made – both to the culture and the structure,” she said. “The community really believes in us. However, we really need to start discussing our next five-year vision and we’re excited to start that.”

She said they would likely begin focus groups consisting of all types of stakeholders in January or February.

  • Bourque also said a major accreditation process has started at Chelsea High School, where the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASAC) evaluation and accreditation process has started.

This year will be the self-study year at Chelsea High and next fall, in 2016, NEASAC evaluators will be on site to review the school and its practices. A school must pass that evaluation to keep its accreditation with the organization.

“That is a really huge thing that is coming up for us,” she said.

  • The MCAS test will remain in place at Chelsea High School this year and next year until the state indicates exactly what direction they are going. However, the new national PARCC test has been implemented at the lower grades, grades 3-8.
  • The district received a review by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in June, and some of the comments were challenging. Six of the nine schools are at a Level 3 status and the state review suggested that some students are succeeding, but not all. It has caused Bourque to issue a challenge to all teachers to “accelerate learning,” something that will likely be heard a lot this year. Bourque has issued a One-Year plan that contains six identified instructional practices. She said she would like to have at least two of those six deeply implemented at every school by the end of this year.

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