February 15, 2023

PPS Prepares to Meet Rising Enrollments

By Donald Gilpin

Enrollment at Princeton Public Schools (PPS) is growing, with an increase of 324 students or 9.5 percent over the past 10 years and an anticipated increase of 433 students, from 3,721 to 4,154, by the 2027-28 school year.

At the February 8 PPS  Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Michael Zuba, a certified professional planner and the director of public education master planning for SLAM, a planning firm for educational entities, presented a report on the anticipated impact on enrollment of new housing in Princeton. His report included information about housing developments that are planned or in progress, the largest of which is Avalon Princeton Circle on Thanet Road, which will consist of 221 apartments and townhouses.

There was an enrollment peak of 3,855 students in the 2019-20 school year, followed by two years of declining enrollment during the pandemic. The data presented at the meeting was consistent  with the two most recent demographic studies in 2020 and 2021.

BOE President Dafna Kendal reflected on the impact of the growing student population and discussed steps the BOE might be taking to address that growth. “We will proceed thoughtfully and deliberately,” she said.

The updated demographic report will be the focus of the March 21 BOE meeting, she added, and in the meantime, “We’re waiting for recommendations from the administration, which we expect to get in early March, and those recommendations will inform our decisions.”

Noting that demographic projections are just one data point, Kendal acknowledged the challenges and opportunities. “What struck me is that we’re going to have 1,100 new housing units in Princeton,” she said. “That’s a lot. Obviously with 1,100 new homes that’s going to be more children, more school-age children.”

She continued, “We are always excited to welcome new children to the district and excited that the district continues to grow. We think that is a reflection of our reputation for excellence.”

Over the past three years the district has implemented schedule changes, facilities upgrades, and the addition of classrooms at Princeton High School and Princeton Middle School in order to maximize the capacity of the existing schools. 

Kendal noted that the Board does not anticipate the need for any new building construction. “Nothing has been ruled out,” she said, “but I think the Board does think that we can work with our existing buildings.”

Kendal explained that the BOE and school administrators work together to balance enrollments at each school and achieve optimal enrollment numbers. 

“We get updated enrollment and updated class sizes at our schools all the time,” she said. “It’s always something that we’re looking at, and this report is another data point for us to consider.”

Kendal discussed some of the steps the district might take in accommodating the influx of new students from Avalon Princeton Circle. “Since there are going to be about 250 more elementary students over the next five years, we will have to make adjustments as to where those students will attend school,” she said. “This is something the Board in collaboration with the administration does all the time.”

With children from Avalon Princeton Circle expected in the PPS this September, Kendal anticipates that the elementary students will be attending Riverside. “The Board always prioritizes keeping school children from the same neighborhoods together, so we can keep the children together as a neighborhood cohort and accommodate the growing enrollment by having them attend Riverside, which at the same time eases the enrollment pressure on Littlebrook,” she said.

Kendal noted that the BOE, in collaboration with administration, is well positioned to prepare the district to accommodate the rise in enrollment. “We’ll be transparent and thoughtful, and we’ll be sure to communicate how we think we can best address the rising enrollment in the best interests of the students and taxpayers,” she said. “We’ll have more information to share with the community by the March 21 date.”