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In some Rowan school zones, residential growth contrasts with enrollment declines

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SALISBURY — As judged by residential permit data, school zones in the eastern end of the county are among the most quickly growing, but student enrollment at East Rowan High and Erwin Middle schools has shrunk by 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively, since 2010.

That was the conclusion of Rowan County Planning Department Chairman Ed Muire on Monday during a presentation to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

The exact reason for that contradiction is unclear, said Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody. But school system officials say they have a general idea about the trends leading to school enrollment declines.

“It’s transfers to other schools inside the district as well as home school, private school, charter school. All of those pieces play into it,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Julie Morrow.

At Erwin, for example, an estimated 45 students in the 2017-18 school year attended Gray Stone Day School — just over the line in Stanly County. And, from 2010 to 2018, the school lost 17 percent of its student population. Meanwhile, the Erwin Middle School district saw the largest number of residential permits issued from 2010 to 2018 of all middle schools in RSS.

In the Erwin district, there were 130 residential building permits issued last year and 718 since 2010, according to Muire’s presentation to the school board on Monday.

But it’s not just east Rowan.

Landis has seen residential growth through construction of homes in the Oaks of Landis subdivision. In fact, among all elementary schools, the Landis Elementary district ranked near the top for residential permits granted. But the student population at Landis Elementary has decreased by 13 percent since 2010.

Moody said home schooling has also been a popular for many students leaving the Rowan-Salisbury system, but some of those students left and came back. At China Grove Middle School, for example, about 20 students who left for to be home-schooled recently re-enrolled, Moody said

At high schools, some school-specific enrollment declines could be a result of students transferring to another school for a particular academy, Moody said. A student who attended East Rowan High, for example, may have transferred to South Rowan for its communications academy or Carson for its arts academy.

But Muire’s presentation showed that trends outside the control of Rowan-Salisbury Schools may be affecting enrollment numbers.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the population of Rowan County residents 9 years and younger declined from 2010 to 2017. While there were 19,244 Rowan County residents younger than 9 in 2010, there were 16,461 in 2017. Meanwhile, the number of Rowan County residents from age 50 to 79 increased.

The census data in Muire’s presentation showed people ages 50 to 54 represent the largest single cohort of Rowan County residents, with ages 55 to 59 in second.

Not included in Muire’s presentation, online data from the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics shows brith rates in Rowan County are lower now than they were 18 years ago — though the exact number has fluctuated from year to year.

The school board neither took action on Muire’s presentation nor redistricting on Monday. However, board Chairman Josh Wagner said the data would provide perspective about the county’s population trends.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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