I want to preface this article by saying that there will always be more work to do when it comes to improving our schools and class sizes in general. I don’t believe there is a definite line we could ever reach where I would say there is no more work to be done. I think that is simply true as we are part of an ever-evolving and changing world. With that being said, the standards I use to measure our class sizes and school population are both comparative and historic.
I write this because almost every action taken by the Town and/or School Committee comes back to a widely held belief that our schools are overcrowded and class sizes are too high. Part of that belief is that development in town is the main cause of this. I disagree with both of these statements. Recent development in town has not contributed in a significant way to our school system nor is our student population or class size too high.
Each month the school committee updates the current enrollment on their website. The below link shows that as of January of this year (2017) the total enrollment in Watertown is 2,656 students. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By4uoVXRE8TQdVhTQzVzZG0xNEU/view
According to the NESDEC figures in the link below, the overall number of kids we have today is most comparable to the number of kids we had in the 2011-2012 school year (2,659). https://docs.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=d2F0ZXJ0b3duLmsxMi5tYS51c3x3cHN8Z3g6NGIzMGZmMTU1MjA2OTMyYg
Now why is that significant? From around the 2011-2012 school year to present day here is a short list of the major developments that have come into town:
• Repton Condos (2009) – 179 Units
• Charlesbank Residences (2012) – 44 Units
• Mews (2013) – 206 Units
• Riverbend (2013) – 170 Units
• Alta/Bell (2014) – 155 Units
• 192 Pleasant (2014) – 7 Units
In total units, not counting smaller projects, or some bigger projects like Howard/Bacon, and not counting residential renovations, that adds up to 761 units.
Watertown added more than 761 units from about 2011 to present day and the total school population went down 3 students.
This is not to say that none of these developments have school-aged children, they do. In fact, at last count, these had a total of 30 school-aged children (spread out over about 68 elementary school classes plus all Middle and all High School classes). The numbers suggest that they have not added to the population in any significant way.
Arsenal Street over the coming years will be adding almost double this amount of units and another 99 units were recently approved for Pleasant Street. I am not saying that I do not expect some school-aged children in these developments. However, if the past is any indication, the vast majority of the time, due to the price of these units and the fact that a majority of the units are studios and one-bedrooms, families with children are not as likely as some may think.
In fact, the Facilities Master Plan (page 9) projects that in 2025/2026 the student population (not including pre-K or out of district students) will be 2553 students. Today’s pre-K and out of district combine to about 193 students. For arguments sake, let’s say the total in 2025/2026 will be, in total, about 2750 students. That is only about 100 more than we have today, added over an almost 10 year timeline.
In sum, recent development has not contributed to our overall school population in any significant way and based on the projections it is likely future development of this type does not either.
Class Size Elementary Schools:
According to the school’s January figures mentioned above, the average class size in the Cunniff School is just over 18 students (283/15 classes), Hosmer School is just over 17 students (555/31 classes) and Lowell is also just over 18 students per class (411/22 classes). The middle and high school class sizes are not broken down.
Today Watertown’s total overall elementary class size is just over 18 students per class.
Watertown Public Schools Budget Hearing Presentation dated 03/30/15 shows FY15 average class sizes for the Cunniff just over 20 students (312/15 classes), Hosmer School is just over 19 students (539/28 classes) and Lowell (381/21 classes) at just over 18 students.
In FY15 overall elementary class size was just over 19 students per class. It is important to note here that the Cunniff School’s fifth grade is unusually big. Last year, as fourth graders, there was a huge problem splitting the students into only 2 classes and this forced staff into constant maneuvering to make the year work. There was a very justified response by the community to the larger class size and space issues. This year they divided the kids into 3 classes to help remedy the situation.
The WPS’s have added almost 60 net new positions over the past 3 fiscal years. The addition of staff, including teachers, likely contributed to the reduction in class size.
Based on the available data I must conclude the following:
• overall our schools are not, and have not, experienced an abrupt or significant increase in population since major development came online (2011)
• our class sizes are going down
• development in Watertown has not contributed to an overall increase in the schools
HOWEVER, very important to note here is that this does not mean there is not space and/or infrastructure issues in Watertown Schools. The Facilities Master Plan Study shows that updating the schools’ infrastructure (the definition of which includes things like potential additions, windows, roof replacements, furniture, new technology, security, etc.) is the vast majority of proposed renovations. Also, the fact is that the way we educate our children in 2017 is very different from the way we educated children even 10 years ago (when I graduated from Watertown High School) and results in space related problems and needs.
Watertown needs new classrooms, offices, infrastructure, etc., that are more conducive to 21st Century teaching methods, will incorporate innovation and provide the resources necessary to make Watertown Schools some of the best in the state.
Overall our school issues are not the result of student population or class size or development. The Steering Committee for the Facilities Master Plan Study has a big task in addressing how to move forward in renovating our schools and I think our community should support them with the knowledge of the issues that our schools face.
District D Town Councilor