What can be done about shrinking enrollment at Oysterponds?

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Oysterponds kindergarten teacher Jenny Schoenstein guides a student during a writing exercise last year.

As enrollment numbers continue to dwindle, Oysterponds Elementary School administrators are developing a plan of action to attract new families and keep the school afloat.

While 2010 census data shows a total population of 1,669 in the Oysterponds school district — an increase of 204 since 2000 — school district numbers show student enrollment has decreased by nearly 12 percent over the past three years.

The school district, which covers Orient and East Marion, offers a kindergarten through 6th grade program and currently sends its junior and senior high school students to Greenport.

There are currently 157 students in the district, 84 attending Oysterponds School and the remaining 73 at Greenport. That’s down from the 178 enrolled during the 2009-10 school year. At that time, the district had 100 students at the elementary school and 78 students at Greenport.

Superintendent Joan Frisicano said although the district is expecting 15 new students next year, the sharp increase in enrollment will be a wash because 15 students will also be leaving the elementary school and entering 7th grade.

“Periodically, enrollment will spike, [but] our estimates are suggesting we will only receive about six or seven students for the following school year,” Ms. Frisicano said.

During recent roundtable discussions with school board members, district residents expressed concern about the shrinking enrollment and fear that the elementary school could close.

School board vice president Dorothy-Dean Thomas said during a Feb. 14 meeting that with the exception of one or two parents, most were opposed to closing the school.

“More were interested in enriching it and re-creating it to be more of a destination school,” Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. Frisicano said she and principal Francoise Wittenburg are working to create “a beacon school to draw people in.”

The district is developing new programs to use technology in each classroom each day. Other ventures include growing partnerships with community leaders to create more walking field trips and environmental lessons.

“Right now, we have a strong elementary school program,” said Ms. Frisicano. “Since we’re small, we’re able to offer programs that other schools aren’t offering right now.”

The district is also endeavoring to enhance its science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, known as STEM, Ms. Frisicano said.

In addition, school officials are considering developing a pre-kindergarten program to attract new families.

Ms. Frisicano said she believed more students will enroll if the school’s offerings extend from pre-K through sixth grade. The district is also looking into the possibility of allowing children living outside the district to enroll in the pre-K program.

“We have big ideas and lots of enthusiasm,” she said. “If it plays out, Oysterponds will be here for a long time.”

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