IWCS largely spared statewide enrollment decline

Published 4:02 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Isle of Wight County Schools is down only 11 students from its pre-pandemic division-wide enrollment.

According to data the Virginia Department of Education released in November, the school division began the fall 2019 school year with 5,630 students. IWCS, which was one of only two Hampton Roads school divisions to reopen its doors in September 2020, began last year with 234 fewer students but has almost completely rebounded, starting the 2021-2022 school year with 5,619 students.

Statewide, enrollment in Virginia’s public schools has dropped by just over 46,000 students, or roughly 3.6% over the past two years. Isle of Wight’s division-wide population loss was much lower, at just 0.2%.

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“We don’t have any hard answers for the ‘whys’ here,” said IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs.

But she and other division administrators believe Isle of Wight’s having been among the first in Hampton Roads to return to in-person learning last year may have something to do with the division’s above-average rebound this school year.

IWCS brought pre-kindergarten through third-grade students back for in-person learning in September 2020, and by the spring of 2021, had brought back pre-kindergarten through eighth grade five days a week.

Carrollton Elementary School and Georgie D. Tyler Middle School, however, are two exceptions to the division-wide trend. According to the VDOE data, Carrollton lost 74 students, just over 10% of its total enrollment, between September 2019 and September 2021. GTMS lost 57 students, just over 13% of its enrollment, during that same period.

According to Briggs, GTMS had experienced a surge in enrollment at the sixth-grade level in 2018.

“We call that a ‘bubble’ class,” Briggs said. “Just for whatever reason, you get more students in one particular grade.”

Those additional sixth-graders from 2018 are now ninth-grade high school students, and — regardless of the pandemic — would no longer attend GTMS.

But as for the 10% drop at Carrollton, “this is when I think we have to say we don’t know” why it happened, Briggs said.

Kindergarten and first grade both have lower enrollment this year compared to 2019 and prior, Briggs said. According to statewide data, kindergarten enrollment is down 5.8% from 2019 and first-grade enrollment is down 7.6%.

Carrollton began the 2019-2020 school year with 166 kindergarteners. In September 2020, kindergarten enrollment had fallen to 106. Now, it’s back up to 147.

“We did see quite a few families who elected to homeschool (in 2020),” Briggs said.

Carrollton, Georgie D. Tyler, Westside Elementary and Carrsville Elementary were the only Isle of Wight schools to report declines in student enrollment since 2019. Westside reported a drop of 36 students, or 4.7% of its total enrollment, while Carrsville reported being just five students, or 2%, down from its pre-pandemic population. All other public schools in the county reported increases in student enrollment from pre-pandemic levels.