Wareham Public Schools experiences slight decline in attendance

Mar 25, 2021

This school year, the number of students attending Wareham Public Schools has decreased by a little more than 100 students since the 2019-2020 school year. 

During the March 25 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood reported that 1,829 students currently attend Wareham Public Schools. 

Last year, the school district was responsible for educating 1,963 students. In total, that means 134 students left the district — in one way or another — since the 2019-2020 school year. The decrease comes after the district’s attendance increased by 42 students between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. 

Shaver-Hood did not discuss the implications of the decreased student population at Thursday’s School Committee meeting.

The number of homeschooled students nearly doubled from one school year to the next — rising from 46 in 2019-2020 to 89 in 2020-2021. Shaver-Hood attributed the spike to the pandemic and said the district expects the number of homeschooled students to decrease next year. In fact, she said, some students are already coming back to the district — presumably ahead of students’ return to the classroom for in-person learning five days a week.

“What we’ve started to see is the fact that our students that were being homeschooled now are returning to school,” Shaver-Hood said.

In the past, drops in attendance have been attributed to changing demographics and an increase in students choosing to attend other public or private schools. 

Additionally, fewer Wareham students are opting to use school choice to attend other districts, continuing what is at least a three-year trend.

Students choosing Wareham Public Schools

Shaver-Hood said 64 students had used school choice to attend Wareham schools during the 2020-2021 school year. 

School choice is a Massachusetts program that allows students to attend schools in districts other than where they live. All students are able to attend other districts, but districts can choose how many students to accept through the program.

The number marks a decrease of only five students from the prior year, which Shaver-Hood said was a positive sign. 

“When you look at the number of students that are coming to Wareham, we are certainly on the uphill swing,” she said. “And given the year that we have experienced, I think holding at 64 is a nice place to be.”

Shaver-Hood also pointed out that the district will likely see more school choice students upon completion of the new elementary school on Minot Avenue. The new school is expected to be ready for students and staff in January 2022.

School Committee member Apryl Rossi asked if administrators had an estimate for how many Wareham students who currently attend other school districts via school choice might elect to come back to Wareham Public Schools once the new elementary school is completed. 

“Has anyone expressed interest ahead of time or asked questions about the process of transferring back in?” Rossi asked. 

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb said she didn’t have an estimate readily available. 

“I wish we had a crystal ball,” she said. “I wish we knew and we could predict what parents would do. But we just look at historical data with other districts in that same predicament that have built a new school and what’s happened as a result of that.”

Schwamb also noted that the new elementary school was built to support 1,020 students from pre-k to grade four. The number of students currently attending Wareham public schools from pre-k to fourth grade was not readily available.

The student attendance numbers provided were from a Jan. 1 snapshot of the district’s attendance, which Shaver-Hood said is used every year.