WARREN, NJ - Student enrollment is declining in Warren Township schools. Kathy Helewa and Len deMontagnac, heads of the Study to Examine Enrollment Project (STEEP) education and facilities committees, provided updates on their work at the last meeting of the Warren Township Board of Education.

deMontagnac acknowledged and appreciated the larger than usual crowd at the meeting, saying, "It's nice to see, when we come to board meetings, everyone here because we feel your energy, we like having a big crowd and we like to be engaged with the community."

In the last nine years, enrollment has steadily declined. According to information presented at the meeting-from a high of 1,511 to 1,112 at the elementary level and from 804 to 663 at the middle school.

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Kathy Helewa, who heads the STEEP education committee, presented their findings and said declining enrollment should not be viewed as a "problem," but "as an exciting time for students, a good time for our town and our stakeholders."

"The truth is, declining enrollment is not a bad thing," said Helewa. "It just is. And it is cyclical. And it's also an opportunity, one that past Warren boards of education did not have."

"What will our facilities allow?" said Helewa. "How can we get what we need, spending responsibly? Can we get better with declining enrollment? It's a very unique opportunity."

The board will move forward "with confidence and optimism" as it makes the best decision for Warren's children, she said.

Helewa reviewed five models for the district and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The five school and grade configuration models are:

-Do nothing. Keep the existing school and grade structure.

-Close one elementary school and have three PK-5 schools and one 6-8 middle school.

-Shake it up with one PK-1 school, one 2-3 school, one 4-5 school, and one 6-8 middle school.

- or, one PK-3 school, one K-3 school, one 4-5 school, and one 6-8 middle school.

-Change the grade levels at the middle school to grades 5-8

three PK-4 schools and one 5-8 middle school.

The factors to be considered are:

Student enrollment distribution, professional development, consistency of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, consistency of educational programs, transitional years (changing schools), role models, parental involvement, amount of stability, stasis in social groups, change/novelty vs. continuity, grouping of grades, developmentally similar/dissimilar, and impermanence in social groups.

"It's daunting, but not in a bad way," said Helewa.

Helewa asked fellow board members to take some time to absorb the information with the whole student in mind. "In Warren Township, we take a 'whole student' approach," said Helewa.

Board Member Len deMontagnac, who heads the STEEP facilities committee, said "Everything we're doing is about, and for, the kids. Priority number one: Kids. Priority number two: Kids. Priority number three: Kids."

The facilities committee analyzed nine models that deMontagnac said generated 111 combinations. 

deMontagnac said there is clearly room for growth at all school sites based on the district's class size guidelines and "We all know how important this work is."

Board Vice President Celeste Campos will provide a STEEP finance committee update at the next meeting on March 21. Expect updates on  "What the cost would be to close an elementary school. What the cost would be to maintain an elementary school that was closed. And then the cost to reopen a school," she said.