Winnetka, News

Officials project that New Trier enrollment decline could continue until 2029

New funding sources may be needed to support building upgrades by end of decade

New Trier High School is anticipating a drop in enrollment over the next several years, continuing a recent trend in the district.

The enrollment projections were part of a long-range financial presentation shared with the district’s board of education at its regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 22.

According to data presented by Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson, New Trier began seeing an enrollment decline in the 2020-2021 school year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has continued since then. The student population has dropped 6.9 percent in four school years, from 4,031 students in 2019-2020 to a current enrollment of 3,742 students.

That timeframe includes a reported loss of 143 students at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

New Trier High School enrollment and projections

Current projections show New Trier continuing to see declines in enrollment over the next five years. The district is projecting that the number of students will be at its lowest in the 2028-2029 school year, with 3,546 students.

According to district data, New Trier’s recent high enrollment was approximately 4,200 students in 2013. Enrollment also topped 4,000 in 2017 and 2019-2021. Current enrollment is far from a district lowpoint, however. District enrollment was below 3,000 between 1989-2000.

Johnson said longtime residents staying in the community is one cause of the enrollment decline.

“Many people enjoy living in the community, even if they’re empty-nesters,” he said. “And so, when those homes start to turn over, it creates opportunities for younger families (to move in).”

He added that there aren’t many opportunities in New Trier Township to create new developments, which also impacts enrollment.

But Johnson also said that the district expects the decline to be “short-term,” and that by the end of the decade New Trier should again see an increase in students.

He also said that, while enrollment has decreased, that has also helped the district in other ways.

“Enrollment really drives a lot of what goes on here, so we look to align resources to support our students,” Johnson said. “Recent enrollment decreases have helped us align those resources for some of those accomplishments we’ve discussed previously.”

Those accomplishments include the recently completed east side athletic project at the Winnetka campus, the addition of a Transition Center in Glencoe for special education students, and smaller class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios.

Johnson also discussed future facility needs at New Trier and said the next major focus will be the North and Tower buildings at the Winnetka campus. Many of the classrooms in those buildings, he said, were built in the mid 1900s and don’t meet the current needs of students and staff.

While he said the district is projected to be “financially strong” over the next five years, by the end of the decade, there are expected to be challenges. According to Johnson, funding sources for only small portions of the planned work have been determined.

“But we have a limited number of funding sources to complete all the work that really needs to be done over the next 10-15 years,” Johnson said, “and additional revenue may be needed beyond what is available in a typical tax levy as we reach the end of the decade.”

He did not specifically mention what those additional revenue opportunities may be.

Board Vice President Jean Hahn said that the facilities work that has been done over the past several years has improved New Trier.

“It’s not just cool to see these pretty new spaces,” she said. “They’re necessary for how we teach and learn in the 21st century.”

Graduating class teams see success, officials say

Another accomplishment Johnson mentioned has been the implementation of what New Trier is calling “graduating class teams,” which debuted at the beginning of this year.

And at Monday’s meeting, board members received an update on the progress of the change and how the teams are contributing to student success.

The teams were created in response to seeing an increase in student challenges, including chronic absenteeism, visits to social workers, and mental health concerns. Each graduating class at New Trier now has its own assistant principal, adviser chairs, and liaisons to different department leaders, such as social workers, school psychologists and post-high school counselors.

Dan Paustian, assistant principal for the class of 2027, said the teams have already seen success, specifically highlighting a decrease in the number of students missing classes, which was reported by The Record in late 2023. At the end of the first semester in 2022, he said nearly 31 percent of students were attending less than 90 percent of school. At the close of 2023, that number was down to 9 percent.

He also discussed data review meetings, where staff talk about students who may need assistance.

“These discussions are rich and provide the ability to identify students in a time-sensitive manner, to partner, collaborate and intervene if appropriate,” Paustian said. “Data review meetings also provide the opportunity for followup with the student’s adviser, family or others to understand further what numbers alone can’t tell a full story on.”

Sarah Struebing, assistant principal for the class of 2025, said sometimes students will need higher levels of support and described what she referred to as “problem-solving team meetings,” which include conversations with a student’s adviser, teachers, and student services staff.

She said the students are also never caught off-guard by any recommended interventions.

“They know that that meeting is going to happen before it starts,” she said. “The adviser sits down and has a really good conversation with them about what’s working and where they need support.”

Struebing added that the graduating class teams are also in communication with a student’s family and teachers so that everybody is aware of what’s happening. Follow-up meetings are also held to discuss progress.

Board member Courtney McDonough called the work of the teams “remarkable.”

“I know there’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m just so grateful,” she said. “I’m so excited for you guys to see the fruits of your labor and all the love that you’ve put into it.”

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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