Edgefield County School District Experiences a Drop in Student Enrollment

Edgefield County School District Experiences a Drop in Student Enrollment

COVID appears to have accelerated the loss of students in the district

From the Office of Edgefield County School District, Chris Haire, PIO

APRIL 21, 2021-Now that students in the Edgefield County School District have returned to class five days a week, we thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the status of offering different learning models for next year (in-person and full remote, for example), our current enrollment numbers by learning model, and some questions specific to population growth/decline throughout the district and specifically in the Merriwether District.

Although ECSD is ready to meet the learning needs of our students, projecting enrollment for the coming 2021-2022 school year is challenging because of the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. While it seems as if we have turned a corner regarding the virus and are optimistic about remaining in school five days a week during the 2021-2022 school year, we need to consider the potential effects of virtual classrooms and other matters for planning purposes.

At this point we do not have clear guidelines from the South Carolina Department of Education regarding the possibility of being able to offer full remote learning for the 2021-2022 school year, but we are in the process of putting contingency plans in place to accommodate the learning models we may be required to offer. In the near future and after receiving clear guidance, we intend to send a survey to our parents in order to collect information about enrollment numbers by learning-model preference. 

Student Enrollment: A Declining Trend 

Since 2011, enrollment for the Edgefield County School District has dropped from 3,621 to a recent low of 3,214. Over the last 10 years, these numbers have been declining. However, COVID appears to have accelerated the loss of students in the district. From January 2020 until the end of March 2020, the district lost approximately 85 students who have not returned to school. Considering our historical trend of a declining population, it’s hard to tell if our current low of 3,214 students will remain or if we may see a small spike at the start of the 2021-2022 school year with what we hope will be a more “normal” year for students.  

One of the complexities with projecting student enrollment numbers for the upcoming school year, which ultimately impacts operational funding for the district, is that this year has been the first time the district has ever had students enrolled in two very different learning models. Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, the district has offered both in-person and full remote learning models. Enrollment numbers fluctuated in both learning models as trends in COVID cases in the county changed throughout the year. 

In-Person vs. Full Remote Learning Enrollment

The chart below provides a quick overview of our current enrollment numbers (as of 4/12/21) by learning model, along with the total in-person capacity of each school. (Note: due to ongoing construction at our Merriwether schools and high school facilities, we have provided the total capacity after construction for those schools): 

School/FacilityIn-Person StudentsFull Remote StudentsCurrent EnrollmentTotal CapacityTotal Capacity After New ConstructionCapacity for Student Growth
Douglas Elementary16537202425223
JET Middle34297439650211
Johnston Elementary22645271500229
Merriwether Elementary 642104*746 (this includes out of zone students, see below)9501110364
Merriwether Middle 29689*385(this includes out of zone students, see below)500600215
Strom Thurmond High & Career Center62214476611001200434
W.E. Parker Elementary 31195406650244
Edgefield County School District Total 2603611321447751930

While we clearly have data on our enrollment numbers by learning model, we do not have information on the desire to have, or the permission to have, multiple learning models next year. We will need information from parents in the near future about their preferred learning model for their child in order to appropriately allocate teachers and materials to meet their needs. In addition, our enrollment numbers will have a significant impact on our operational budget in the months and years to come. 

Growth in Merriwether

While there has been an overall decline in enrollment in all schools for the past two years, there is clearly a lot of development in the Merriwether area. In 2018, a facilities assessment was completed by Thompson Turner Construction for all school campuses to evaluate various components of our facilities, such as safety needs, general updates, school capacity, etc. As part of this assessment, the district was advised to evaluate growth based on a traditional formula used to project student enrollment. The recommended formula calls for us to anticipate 40 new students for every 100 new homes that are built.

Considering the formula above, 100 new homes in the Merriwether attendance zone would equate to 40 new K-12 students. If that were broken down by school (and if 100% of those students attended ECSD), we would estimate 18 new students at Merriwether Elementary School (MES), 10 new students at Merriwether Middle School (MMS), and 12 new students at STHS.

Based on the projected population growth provided in the facility assessment conducted by Thompson Turner Construction, the expansion of instructional space at both Merriwether schools and Strom Thurmond High School (STHS) and Career Center is currently underway. The information provided in the bullets below will show current and future student enrollment capacity in the Merriwether schools and at STHS:

●          MES currently has an enrollment of 746 students in grades K-5. Seventy (70) of those students are allowed to attend from out of their attendance zone, which means MES has 676 students that are currently zoned for the school. After construction is complete, the school will have a maximum capacity of 1,110 students. Considering the school could relocate out-of-zone students (70) back to their home school and have a capacity of 1,110 students, we have the ability to take on 434 new students at MES.

●          MMS currently has an enrollment of 385 students. Forty-one (41) of those students are allowed to attend from out of their attendance zone, which means MMS has 344 students that are currently zoned for the school. After construction is complete, the school will have a maximum capacity of 600 students. Considering the school could relocate out-of-zone students (41) back to their home schools and have a capacity of 600 students, we have the ability to take on 256 new students at MMS.

●          STHS currently has an enrollment of 766 students. After construction is complete, the school will have a maximum capacity of 1,200 students. This means we have space for 434 more students. 

As stated earlier, overall enrollment in the district has declined significantly in the last 10 years. With this and the additional construction taking place at MES, MMS, and STHS in mind, there is no indication that our schools will be at full capacity in the immediate future.

Our immediate concerns in terms of enrollment are focused on determining the possibility of providing in-person instruction and full remote instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. We look forward to providing more information to the community regarding the potential to offer these learning models, so that we can quickly get information from parents about their preference for their children. 

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