Marblehead school superintendent reports ‘astronomical’ increase in enrollment

Marblehead School Superintendent Dr. John Buckey

Enrollment experienced an “astronomical” 6-percent increase over the summer, with 131 new students set to star the year in Marblehead public schools next week, Marblehead School Superintendent John Buckey announced at the Aug. 29 meeting of the Marblehead School Committee. 

“We’ve had an increase in enrollment in every grade level except at grade 4, and it was static at grade 10,” Buckey said. “We’re fortunate to have the staffing that we do, and we’re fortunate that we didn’t make any reductions in staffing.”

Kindergarten is seeing the biggest jump, with an increase of 22 additional students over last year.

“Our kindergarten enrollment from last year to this year increased 14.4 percent, and that’s really significant because those kids are going to be in the system for the next 13 years,” said School Committee Chair Sarah Fox. 

She added, “This is going to come into play when it comes to budgeting. This really changes the dialogue.”

This fall’s increase comes after a 12.2-percent drop in enrollment last school year, according to the Department of Early and Secondary Education. 

‘Screaming from the rooftops’

So, what prompted the increase? Buckey thinks many families are sending their children back to Marblehead schools, now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

“With those gone, families are feeling more comfortable returning to their public school districts,” he said. “Stability in the district and among staff is another reason. Our staff retention rate is the highest it has been in five years.”

Fox said she has been seeing the increase coming for a while. 

“It’s what I’ve been screaming from the rooftops for years now, saying it’s going to happen,” she said. “We’ve seen the increase; we’ve built the new schools. If you build it, they will come, and now we have these numbers.”

‘No one seems panicked about hiring’

Buckey spoke enthusiastically about hiring across the district, acknowledging that some key positions still need to be filled, including a Village School special education teacher.

“No one seems panicked about hiring, especially compared to neighboring districts where there are some really critical openings,” he said. “We have a very high retention rate, and it’s exciting some of the hiring we’ve done this summer.”

Buckey said the biggest need is for paraprofessionals and cafeteria workers. 

Other business

In other business, the School Committee approved the hiring of Mary Talbot as the new Glover School nurse.

It also approved nearly $9,000 in new equipment and tech support for a video conferencing system to facilitate hybrid School Committee meetings.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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