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Niskayuna schools push capacity as enrollment grows

Niskayuna schools push capacity as enrollment grows

Leaders unsure of how to meet looming space challenge
Niskayuna schools push capacity as enrollment grows
Students enter Craig Elementary School in September 2015.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Niskayuna schools are nearly full, even as enrollment is expected to climb in coming years, according to a consultant hired by the district.

The enrollment study comes as the district heads toward a potential vote on a new capital project to be undertaken by May 2020, a project that school leaders hope will bring more collaborative work spaces to school facilities and fix outdated infrastructure.

Paul Seversky, who analyzed the district’s enrollment trends and building capacities, presented his findings to the Niskayuna school board Tuesday night. Seversky said Niskayuna was bucking statewide trends with recent growth in the student body and should expect continued growth in the coming years, as well.

“You are literally at capacity (in some buildings)," Seversky told the school board as he ticked through the capacity of individual buildings. "That’s unusual in the state."

Taken as a whole, the district’s five elementary schools are already at 96 percent capacity, based on the district’s class size targets. Seversky said schools typically try to stay 8 to 10 percent below class size targets, so they can accommodate new students and provide flexibility to teachers.

But some Niskayuna schools are closer to full than others: Craig Elementary is seven students over its class size targets, while Rosendale Elementary sits at about 90 percent of its capacity, according to the report. The high school is also nearly full, with room for just a few more students before hitting class size targets. But high school enrollment may level out or tick down slightly over the next couple of years, before a wave of younger students boosts it higher over the longer term, according to Seversky's study.

Growth in recent years has been concentrated in the younger grades. Far more kindergartners have enrolled than the number of kids born in Niskayuna, indicating families with kids are moving to the district.

With little reason to think that trend will abate, and documented plans filed by developers to build more than 130 new housing units in the next five years, Seversky said the district is positioned to grow. By how much, however, is less certain.

Serversky outlined three scenarios: the low-range estimate projects the district’s overall enrollment at nearly 4,400 students in 10 years, up from just over 4,250 students now. On the high end, Seversky projected the district could see enrollment grow to as many as 5,500 students.

Elementary school enrollment growth has the least stable projections, with Seversky estimating it as high as 350 students over five years; the low-end projection is for flat enrollment. But the study, and Seversky's board presentation, both pointed toward a capacity challenge.

“Depending on enrollments over the next three years … you will be having more and more difficulty achieving those targets by your principals,” he said at the school board meeting.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra said district officials were still “a long way from making any decision” about how to proceed but acknowledged the district will need more space.

He said the district is working on changes to how teachers approach curriculum — aiming for more collaborative lessons. Those changes will also require more space.

“We would need more space even if the study didn’t indicate we are at capacity,” Tangorra said after the meeting.

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