A new report says declining enrollments at local elementary and middle schools may mean changes are coming to Los Gatos and Saratoga high schools.
The 2021-22 Demographics & Enrollment Projections Report by the consulting firm SchoolWorks was discussed by the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Board of Trustees on Jan. 11.
“Where the declines are really seen is when you look at all the feeder districts and the number of students that they’re going to be feeding into your high schools,” SchoolWorks president Ken Reynolds said. “When we look at our eighth-graders, seventh-graders, sixth-graders, we’re going to start seeing some smaller classes coming in.”
Currently, 2,107 students attend LGHS and 1,227 students attend SHS; the combined enrollment is 3,334.
Going forward, Reynolds’ report predicts combined enrollment will drop to 2,927 in 2024-25, with LGHS dropping to about 1,865 students and SHS dropping to about 1,062 students.
The district’s combined enrollment peaked at 3,534 in 2019-20, dropping to 3,457 in 2020-21, Reynolds said.
Superintendent Michael Grove noted that SchoolWorks is “very confident” in their projections for the next three years.
“We’re in declining enrollment right now,” Grove said. “So, we need to have some conversations about what’s our strategy to deal with this.”
Grove expects the school district to hold community meetings to discuss the issue beginning next year. He’d like to see a long range plan developed rather than “pretending it won’t happen.”
“A district has four choices when you’re facing this sort of imbalance between two schools, with one school getting particularly small,” Grove said. “One is you just accept it and allow that school to be a very small school; two is you consider closing a school if it were to get that small; three would be re-drawing a boundary to better balance the enrollment or four is to use more of a market-based approach and allow the smaller school to develop some programs and actively recruit students from the other attendance area.”
Trustee Peter Hertan suggested that Saratoga’s robotics and music arts programs are examples of programs that might attract LGHS students to Saratoga.
And Trustee Cynthia Chang pointed out that changes to state housing laws could upend enrollment projections altogether. For instance, SB 9 allows property owners to split a single family parcel.
“I think because the state law now trumps the local control that could potentially add more students to both our high schools,” Chang said.
In a separate interview, Grove cautioned that “none of this imminent…but we need to start having the conversations and think about what are the various ways we could address this.”
Previously, Grove was an assistant superintendent at the San Dieguito Union High School District in San Diego County. The district has four comprehensive high schools that use a market-based approach to attract students.
“Each school offered generally the same academic courses but there were differences in electives, there were differences in bell schedules, there were differences in cultural aspects that they tried to emphasize,” Grove said. “Each school hosted a night where they basically marketed themselves: here’s what makes us unique and here’s what we’re all about, and if you feel like you’re the right fit for our school then choose us. We worked really hard to make it not competitive—it was really about who we are as a school and what we are all about, so students and families could find the school that was the best fit for them.”
Grove does not believe closing Saratoga High or changing school boundaries are viable options. But if the decline in enrollment continues, he expects the bottom line to be that “any student in our district can attend either one of our high schools.”