By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Sometimes good news comes in unexpected ways.
After six straight years of declining enrollment, the Wawasee Community School Corporation was informed in early January by the Indiana Department of Education there was an error in determining how student enrollment was calculated. As a result, Wawasee’s total enrollment number as reported by the IDOE for the 2021-22 school year is 2,937. Instead of it being 2,834 as first thought, the number grew by more than 100 students.
“We are still corresponding with the state to determine if this impacts our ADM (average daily membership for school funding) or not,” said Dr. Steve Troyer, WCSC superintendent. “Regardless, we are somewhat encouraged to finally see a rise in enrollment rather than another year of loss.”
By school building the enrollment numbers for 2021-22 are as follows: North Webster Elementary, 460; Syracuse Elementary, 524; Milford School, 475; Wawasee Middle School, 530; and Wawasee High School, 948. Compared to the 2020-21 school year, North Webster had an increase of 100 students and Milford had a decrease of 22 students. Syracuse and WMS both had gains of 12 students and the high school had a decrease of one student.
But the pandemic figured significantly into the numbers. “Last year during the fall count day we were still allowing virtual enrollment for elementary students (we have since stopped offering virtual programming for elementary),” Troyer said. “Because of the way our program was structured, all the virtual students were either enrolled at Syracuse Elementary or Milford Elementary, based upon the location of the virtual teacher for that specific grade level. That meant all the virtual students from NWES were taken off their books and put on the books of the other two buildings.
“Hence, the big loss of enrollment last year, and the corresponding big gain in enrollment for the spring count, and this year.”
For the 2019-20 school year, which had in person learning until March 2020, North Webster had 410 students enrolled before dropping to 360 for 2020-21. Milford went from 532 in 2019-20 to 497 in 2020-21 and the high school from 920 to 949 during the same time period. Syracuse had a modest gain from 501 to 512 and WMS remained exactly the same at 518.
Troyer noted several students were homeschooled and returned to school this year “so that has been an additional factor in the gain in enrollment.”
Last year during the public meetings he held one of the issues brought up repeatedly was the number of students living in the Wawasee school district who choose to attend other schools. It has been a point of emphasis for the school corporation to address.
“We lose 262 students to other public schools but gain 191 students to Wawasee, which is a net difference of -71 students,” he said. “It is becoming increasingly important that we find ways to connect with these families and develop an environment and culture where they want to remain here in our local school community. We feel we can best serve the students in Syracuse, Milford and North Webster by keeping them in our local schools.”
Statewide Enrollment Numbers
IDOE reported enrollment in Indiana’s public and accredited non-public schools grew to 1.12 million students for the 2021-22 school year, a modest increase from the previous school year.
A 5.25% increase in kindergarten enrollment was a significant part of the enrollment growth. “This strong growth comes as some families are enrolling their children in a K-12 school for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it was noted in a news release from IDOE.
Of the 1.12 million, 1.03 million students are enrolled in public schools. Enrollment calculations are based on a statewide count of students in attendance in an Indiana school Oct. 1.