Public and Private School Enrollment Changes

With in-person learning in full swing at private and public schools from Pacifica to Pescadero, some private schools are seeing more students in classrooms. Meanwhile, public schools say they aren’t noting a significant change in enrollment.

Sea Crest Head of School Lauren Miller said 30 percent of the private Half Moon Bay school’s 261 students are new this year. She credits the enrollment increase to the pandemic and the gaining popularity of the school’s junior kindergarten program, which is in just its third year.

“For us personally, I think there’s been an effort from our community to spread the word about Sea Crest around town,” Miller said.

While El Granada’s Wilkinson School initially saw a drop to 46 students from around 56 pre-pandemic, enrollment is rising again this year and its kindergarten through second grade classes are now full, Communications Manager Katherine Taggart said. During the 2020-21 year, the school lost students to moves or homeschooling while classes went remote. But Taggart said the changes weren’t unexpected and staff has adjusted easily to accommodate kids coming back this year. The school’s small classes and its efforts to communicate with families constantly about pandemic changes may have helped retain its students, Taggart said.

“The fact that it’s a small school is appealing already,” Taggart said.

Miller agreed, and said Sea Crest’s size and focus on providing a curriculum that makes classes like theater and technology a central focus appeals to local families. And this year, Miller said, the school is more culturally and socioeconomically diverse than in the past, with more students receiving financial aid than any other year in its history.

Meanwhile, enrollment at local public schools held relatively steady this year, with La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District losing just two students and elementary schools across Pacifica School District seeing an 8 percent drop. Jefferson Union High School District saw around a 2 percent decline from last year, with its larger drop occurring at the start of the pandemic.

PSD Superintendent Heather Olsen attributes her district’s largest drop, of 100 students at Sunset Ridge Elementary, to the campus closing to in-person learning for all of last year. Families who moved away from the Bay Area during the pandemic were also a factor, she said.

But Olsen said she expects the 221 students who left the district this year to return, many even by the end of the year. That’s why she’s not concerned that current numbers are reflecting any kind of declining enrollment trend.

“If we didn’t have a pandemic, it would be unexpected,” Olsen said.

At Cabrillo Unified School District schools, numbers shared by Superintendent Sean McPhetridge show no dramatic changes in class sizes. Although more Coastside students than usual enrolled in the district’s independent study program, prompting a shift in staffing to accommodate the nearly 50 students now learning entirely remotely, McPhetridge said the trend isn’t as severe as in neighboring districts. Instead, this year’s numbers reflect CUSD’s declining enrollment more generally, which has been prompted by rising housing prices and an aging population that are separate from pandemic factors. McPhetridge said he expects the future demographics of Cabrillo students to reflect the changes the state is seeing on the whole.

“I don't think we’re seeing an exodus of families because of the pandemic from here,” McPhetridge said.

Sarah Wright is the deputy editor for the Review. She reports on unincorporated San Mateo County and local schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and has worked in policy and communications in Washington, D.C.

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