Wilcox Grapples With Enrollment Drops Into 2023


Graph included in an article by The Mercury News titled “Bay Area school enrollment plummets for the sixth year in a row.” The depicted stats are for counties, not districts, meaning the Santa Clara County statistic also includes other Bay Area cities in addition to SCUSD. Sourced from listed sources as well as The Mercury News

 Wilcox is seeing a crisis in enrollment going into the 2023/2024 school year. A general trend of decreasing enrollment and MacDonald High’s opening mean the drop is partly expected, but simultaneous drops in population make the trend an active concern. Wilcox community members can expect to be directly affected by this development. Certain classes will be made unavailable, and teachers’ job security will be impacted as they face potential layoffs or transfers. Paired with general logistical effects, developments in staffing and class structure mean SCUSD’s coming year looks to be shaped by the enrollment drops. 

The most immediate effect of enrollment drops is the loss of staff at Wilcox. As Vice Principal Mr. Niczewicz put it, “With lower enrollment comes something called lower FTE. FTE is full-time employment, which is the number of staff that we have teaching classes.” A drop in FTE would see multiple staff members leave Wilcox. This could mean general layoffs, or staff transferring to other schools in the district such as the newly opened MacDonald High. The exact scale of the cuts is not yet known, but Mr. Niczewicz mentions as an example “a plan to have one less vice principal here [at Wilcox]” eventually. 

Non-tenured teachers will likely face the brunt of staffing cuts. Teachers in California are tenured after two years, remaining on probationary status beforehand. A development like enrollment drops most threatens teachers who have not completed this two-year-requirement. Mr. Caesar, a teacher only recently hired at Wilcox, described the potential cuts’ effects on the teachers of Wilcox’s community: “…one thing is the social climate. I think people know that they’re gonna have to say goodbye to their colleagues, and just seeing that is just really sad for a lot of us.”

Enrollment drops also pose multiple logistical issues. Classes will have to be restructured according to what is being taken next year. Signup data could be necessary to allocate appropriate numbers of periods to different classes, as well as decide if a class’ signups are low enough to necessitate its potential cut. Ticketed events like those planned by ASB might be impacted as well. Mr. Niczewicz describes how a lower student population means fewer ticket sales, then higher ticket prices to cover venue costs in light of fewer sales, then fewer sales because of higher prices, etc. 

 A multitude of factors contribute to the enrollment crisis. When contacted, the Santa Clara Unified School District Office listed some important ones; namely, a drop in live births in the SCUSD area (reducing by 13% between 2013 and 2020), and a drop in SCUSD enrollment from kindergarten (down 5.7% between 2018-2019 to 2022-2023). The latter is especially important as a given cohort’s enrollment usually decreases between kindergarten to sixth grade in SCUSD. According to the District Office, this decline continues between sixth and eighth grade, reverses slightly at ninth grade, and remains generally steady from 10th-12th. Considering how rarely a cohort’s enrollment increases K-12, lower kindergarten enrollment seriously contributes to SCUSD’s enrollment issue.

Both the school and district are taking steps to combat enrollment decline. For example, the addition of health/ethnic studies as a seventh class in freshman schedules could assist in keeping FTE more stable by necessitating extra staff. The District Office also mentioned it’s currently engaged in a cross-departmental effort to ensure SCUSD and its schools are appropriately staffed.

It is unknown how far-reaching the effects of enrollment drops will be. The District Office stated although enrollment was declining in the past, COVID’s aftermath and an increase in remote work make the future of enrollment drops difficult to determine. 

The immediate effects of enrollment drops are concerning, especially on our community’s teachers. And yet, it’s important to try and frame things in a manageable light. As Mr. Caesar put it: “You don’t know when things are going to end. Things could be going good, but sometimes things just happen, and you got to make the most of every moment…I was really hoping I’d be here to see a lot of my kids graduate…But like, you know, sadly, things don’t last forever.”