Exclusive: Falling enrollment challenges the new Monomoy High School

Enrollment woes - even with 8th graders added the new district high school will be 110 students short of the minimum 700 student "model school" enrollment - Interview with new Monomoy Superintendent Scott Carpenter
Many people believe that Dennis-Yarmouth and Nauset will end up devouring the new Monomoy Regional School District, as represented in this adaptation of James Gillray’s historic cartoon showing England and France carving up the globe between themselves.

What if you build a high school and no one comes?

School building funds not threatened… yet

Last year the Monomoy Regional School District which includes Chatham and Harwich decided to include eighth graders in the new high school under construction in Harwich. The Massachusetts School Building Authority’s “model school program” required that Monomoy’s new building enroll 700 students.

Chatham and Harwich didn’t have 700 high school students between them so the district was forced to add eighth graders to the new school.

Enrollment woes - 110 students short of the minimum 700 student “Model School” enrollment

Based upon current enrollment figures published by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Monomoy Regional High School still won’t enroll 700 students when the school opens in the fall of 2014.

First we looked at Monomoy’s numbers for the just-ended school year:

Grade 08 135
Grade 09 120
Grade 10   92
Grade 11   98
Grade 12 145

Total 590

That’s 110 students short of the minimum 700 student “Model School” enrollment.

Then we tried to project what Fiscal 2015 enrollment would be, based on today’s numbers.

Grade 08 (class of 2019) 143
Grade 09 (class of 2018) 146
Grade 10 (class of 2017) 135
Grade 11 (class of 2016) 120
Grade 12 (class of 2015)   92

Total 636

Virtual Interview with new Monomoy Superintendent Scott Carpenter

Next we contacted Monomoy’s new superintendent, Scott Carpenter, on his 18th day of employment. Carpenter was hired away from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School to succeed interim superintendent Carolyn Cragin.

We asked Mr. Carpenter if this enrollment shortfall jeopardizes state funding for the new $64.7 million high school.

Carpenter responded, “…the Massachusetts School Building Authority will continue to support Monomoy Regional High School. I spoke to an administrator for the MSBA yesterday who assured me that the first step taken by the MSBA is to conduct an enrollment projection for every school building project. The MSBA projection accounted for all possible students and projected Monomoy Regional High School’s future enrollment through the year 2025. With grades 8 through 12 at Monomoy Regional High School, the total enrollment was projected to hover in the vicinity of 700 through 2025.”

Looking to 2025

If one looks at Monomoy’s current enrollment all the way down to pre-kindergarten, it’s easy to see where the MSBA came up with their enrollment that hovers “in the vicinity of 700 through 2025.”

Consider the classes of 2021 through 2025. Looking at them in the context of the 2012-2013 school year, those five classes include 768 students. That certainly looks like Monomoy would be “home and dry” a few years down the road.

However that does not account for the alarming shrinkage Monomoy has experienced recently as students approach high school.

Disappearing students

We looked at the class of 2014 – the last that will graduate from Chatham and Harwich High Schools.

In the 2012-2013 school year, Grades 10 and 11 enrolled 33% fewer students than the 12th grade.

Then we looked at the Class of 2014 over the past five years and observed shrinkage each year.

Class of 2014 (current Grade 11) Monomoy = 98 students
Class of 2014 (when in Grade 10) Harwich 67 + Chatham 39 = 106
Class of 2014 (when in Grade 9) Harwich 90 + Chatham 40 = 130
Class of 2014 (when in Grade 8) Harwich 96 + Chatham 59 = 155
Class of 2014 (when in Grade 7) Harwich 102 + Chatham 56 = 158

Projected enrollment of 768 looks more like 476

This represents a drop of 38% between Grade 7 and Grade 11. That’s almost as disgraceful as the exodus by 54% of Bourne High School’s eighth graders this year.

If Monomoy still has a bleed of 38% between grades 7 and 11 in 2021 then our projected enrollment of 768 will look more like 476.

Monomoy’s school choice net income has dropped by $200,000 compared to what Chatham and Harwich were bringing in back in 2010.

Our sense is that school choice “customers” have turned away from Chatham/Harwich over the past few years as Nauset became the area’s de-facto “school of choice”.

We asked Superintendent Carpenter about this and

Carpenter responded, “You are also right in your assessment of the recent loss of students to other districts – we will be rekindling the magic to keep students and to bring students back to Monomoy. I’m confident that when families see both the supportive and nurturing environment that Monomoy’s smaller size brings, coupled to enhanced breadth, opportunities, and rigor that can be supported by this merged system, fewer families will choice-out and more will seek out the academic and extracurricular programs that Monomoy will offer.”

The “competition”

Chatham wrote the book on school competition twenty years ago. An influx of school choice students kept the Chatham school district independent for close to twenty years.

That was a long time ago. Times have changed.

Back in the 1990’s, Nauset Regional High School was considered by many to be an unwieldy school where many kids found themselves “lost”. Meanwhile, Dennis-Yarmouth was falling into a long tailspin as its students sought alternative education venues.

Today Nauset is ranked by US News and World Report as the 32nd best high school in Massachusetts and Dennis-Yarmouth is ranked 51st. Both schools hold national ranking.

Additionally we have the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis which is consistently ranked among the best high schools in the nation. Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School now resides in Harwich and has plenty of space to double its middle school enrollment or to add a high school.

This is pretty tough competition.

What if you build it and no one comes?

Superintendent Carpenter tells Cape Cod Today, “There is great synergy in bringing two small, but strong, school systems together. We will be sharing with our students, parents, and communities the exciting changes coming to Monomoy in forums during the beginning of the coming school year, as we prepare for the opening of the new Monomoy Regional High School in Harwich and the Monomoy Regional Middle School in Chatham in September 2014.”

“Synergy” is a wonderful concept but it does not fill empty desks.

When we spoke with Dr. Carolyn Cragin over a year ago she (and we) believed that students would start flocking to the Monomoy district in advance of the high school’s opening. We haven’t observed that. Instead, Monomoy’s school choice numbers have fallen.

Having “the newest high school on Cape Cod” may not be enough to attract students when Monomoy is competing against nationally-ranked schools. School choice “consumers” are much more sophisticated than they were in 1993.

Will Monomoy bring seventh graders into the high school to preserve its funding?

Monomoy needs to be a first-class operation in all respects. We believe that the Monomoy school committee hired Scott Carpenter to provide much needed academic improvements.

If Monomoy makes an investment in STEM education and perhaps manages to offer an IB program at the new high school, it might make itself inviting to choice students again. Without academic excellence, extracurriculars and “synergy” mean very little.

How tolerant will the MSBA remain if Monomoy is consistently unable to reach its 700 student “model school” enrollment? Will Monomoy be forced to bring seventh graders into the high school to preserve its funding?

What happens if you build it and no one comes?

Read the past education stories here.

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