Charlottesville's school enrollment is trending upward for the third consecutive year

Both Albemarle County Public Schools and Charlottesville City Schools posted enrollment increases, according to September 30 numbers the divisions reported to the state.

Seven of Charlottesville’s 9 schools grew, bringing the division total to 4,085 students—the first time the division’s enrollment has broken the 4,000-student threshold in the last 6 years.

The rise in enrollment is the third straight year of growth for Charlottesville, which saw its student population drop from 4,267 in 2003-4 to 3,792 in 2010-11.

Ed Gillaspie, the Schools’ finance director, said that while no single issue caused the decline in those years, the lifestyle choices families make always affect school enrollment.

“Generally speaking, from the late 70’s or so, there was a move to the suburbs across the nation and Charlottesville was no different,” Gillaspie said. “I think that trend may be ending somewhat and you are seeing people choose an urban lifestyle more often than they may have in the past.”

Burnley-Moran, Clark, and Greenbrier elementary schools gained the most students at 31, 38, and 27, respectively. Buford Middle School’s numbers dropped by 15, and Venable Elementary School’s by 24.

“We had an unusually large group in kindergarten last year, which caused us to open a fourth class,” Venable Principal Erin Kershner said. “But during the school year and over the summer, we also had an unusually high number of families move away.” 

Division-wide, Charlottesville’s kindergarten enrollment jumped to 447, which is a 116-student jump in the last 5 years.

Gillaspie said factors including new residential development and innovative school programs have led to the increase.

“In the context of these, the economy may also have had an effect by pulling in parents who may have otherwise moved in the direction of a private school placement,” Gillaspie said.

Thirteen of Albemarle’s 26 schools also saw enrollment increases. Division-wide, enrollment jumped up 73 students to 13,141, which marks an increase of 558 over the last 5 years.

Greer, Baker-Butler, and Woodbrook elementary schools all exceeded projections, posting increases of 77, 40, and 51 students, respectively.

Jack Jouett Middle School grew by 38, and Albemarle High School by 78. AHS’ enrollment of 1,869 places the school above its capacity of 1,812.

Walton Middle School dipped by 46 students.

Albemarle School Board Chair Steve Koleszar said the negative publicity the school received earlier this year might have been a contributing factor.

Despite the drop, Koleszar said that year-to-year enrollment numbers can change rapidly, noting that Brownsville Elementary School declined by 31, despite its previous growth.

Albemarle spokesman Phil Giaramita said that while the County has seen steady growth near Crozet, this year’s growth occurred mainly in northern Albemarle.

Despite the population increase, Koleszar said the County’s schools can still absorb additional students, and that the Board would remain open to redistricting in the future.

“You can’t get too excited about 1 years’ numbers,” Koleszar said. “You have to look at what the long-term growth trends are, and you have to know that they can change.”

“With a total overall growth rate of maybe 200 students a year, that’s not so dramatic that we have to start building schools,” Koleszar added.

There are no imminent plans to build a new northern high school, and in July, the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee recommended instead building additions at Western Albemarle and Monticello high schools.

“Our philosophy has been over the last 10 years or so, where possible, that we’re better off adding seats to existing schools, because it’s a more efficient use of our dollars,” Koleszar said.

“If all of our urban ring elementary schools get up to that 650-700 number than we would maybe have to do something,” Koleszar said.