On the first day of school at Bridgehampton, superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood remembers seeing several new faces in the bleachers and watching as principal Jack Pryor introduced each one to the student body. Over in the neighboring Sag Harbor School District, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto was preparing to add another biology class for the children who recently joined the district.
This September, both the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor School Districts noticed a sizable uptake in enrollment. The Sag Harbor School District welcomed 70 new students, while Bridgehampton received 27 additional pupils.
“Over the past three years there has been an increase, but this is statistically significant over the other years,” explained Pryor. Both Dr. Gratto and Pryor believe the recession and changing perceptions of the school districts impacted this trend.
“This [increase] is rare, but I think it is reflective of the economic times and indicates the quality of education kids will get here,” reported Dr. Gratto.
At Bridgehampton, Pryor noted that a large portion of the incoming students transferred from private schools. Of the 70 additional Sag Harbor students, about 18 formerly attended the Ross School which raised tuition to $30,000 this past year. However, Pryor and Dr.Gratto added that several other children moved to the area from New York City and many were pulled from private schools in the city, added Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.
For Bridgehampton resident Chris Hoyt, transferring her children from a local private school to Bridgehampton Elementary had more to do with academics than economics. Her elder daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability and after touring all of the area public schools Hoyt felt Bridgehampton was the best match. The school, she said, appeared better equipped to handle her child’s needs. One family, said Pryor, moved to the East End from Indonesia, while other students were from out of state.
“We went to Bridgehampton and fell in love with it that day. My daughters started two weeks ago and it has been a smooth transition. They are completely embraced and treated like members of a family,” remarked Hoyt.
Other families who live out of district are choosing to pay to attend Bridgehampton or Sag Harbor. Dr. Youngblood reported that there are at least five new students paying tuition this year and in Sag Harbor two Bridgehampton residents have opted to enroll in the Sag Harbor School District.
At the Ross School, however, there has been a seven percent decrease in enrollment, though head of school Michele Claeys expects mid-year admissions. Students hailing from Sag Harbor account for one-fifth of the Ross student body, but this year that figure also decreased by seven percent. However, the school is noticing a significant increase in the number of boarding students.
“Our boarders have added a wonderful new dimension to Ross School. They represent ten countries and are a natural part of our global
mission. The boarding program is a terrific opportunity for both our boarding and day students to engage with peers who have a wide variety of life experiences and points of view,” said Claeys.
As yet, the increases in the student populations haven’t forced the schools to hire additional staff. The change has only slightly affected programming in Sag Harbor, specifically with the biology program taught in tenth grade. Dr. Gratto explained that the school has only 22 seats in the lab station of the science classrooms, but some classes had already filled up with between 24 to 28 students. The school opted to create an additional class for 14 students. Instead of teaching five classes, the biology teacher will now instruct six classes plus a lab resulting in an additional cost of $13,000 to $14,000.
At an extremely small school like Bridgehampton, the increase in students was welcomed as a way to diversify the classroom discourse.
“It made our classes more robust in terms of discussion. There are more students to interact with one another,” said Dr. Youngblood. “That has been one of our delights … and not having to increase teaching staff.”
Hoyt can testify to her daughter’s positive transition experience, although she wasn’t always keen on the Bridgehampton School District.
“I was apprehensive about the school because you heard so much about people trying to close it down,” recalled Hoyt. “[But now] I am confident in my daughter’s education and I am confident in the district.”