By Justin Roshak, Contributing Writer
HUDSON – This year’s start-of-year report from Hudson Schools Superintendent Marco Rodrigues sparked a discussion about what, if anything, the district can do about declining enrollment.
As of the School Committee’s Sept. 7 meeting, the Hudson Public Schools had enrolled 268 new students for this current school year. About half were incoming kindergarteners (164), while the largest increases in enrollment were in grades one and two. The weighted mean size of all high school classes was 21, only slightly higher than the number recommended by education experts.
But the main topic of discussion was overall enrollment, which has declined steadily over the last five years.
Last year, Hudson enrolled 81 percent of the area’s total number of eligible students. That’s less than the 86 percent of area students enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year.
Vocational school attendance has historically accounted for the largest number of area students not in the public schools. But that number has been relatively steady over the last few years in Hudson.
This year, just 37 ninth graders are expected to have transferred to Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, marking a record low compared to the past five years.
Charter school attendance, meanwhile, has grown quickly.
Area students attending charter schools jumped to 179 in 2020-21 from 136 in 2019-20. That’s double the number of charter school attendees in the 2015-2016 school year.
Sixth-grade transfers to the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, which is the region’s charter school of choice, were significantly higher over the last two years as the number of Hudson students attending AMSA has increased by 154 percent since 2015.
The trend is continuing this year as, for the first time, more Hudson students are attending AMSA than Assabet, with 196 going to AMSA and 193 going to Assabet.
After four years of static numbers, homeschooling doubled last year from 27 to 56 students. Rodrigues attributed that to parents’ desire to keep students at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Rodrigues rejected the idea that Hudson was pushing parents away through a lack of options or quality.
“None of us have that inclination,” he said.
Rodrigues said he was skeptical of the idea that marketing, such as flyers in area mailboxes, would boost enrollment.
“I have not considered public relations,” he said. “We compete by who we are.”
Rodrigues added, “There will always be parents who have a choice. And regardless of what we offer, they will choose to go elsewhere.”
Over time, a substantially smaller student population would require a restructuring of the number and diversity of course offerings. It would also prompt an accompanying decrease in staff, Rodrigues said.
Though they said the shrinkage is not so acute as to threaten major adjustments over the next few years, committee discussions noted that, if trends continue, the most likely step would be for Hudson to close one of three elementary schools and consolidate staff into two buildings.