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Enrollment takes a hit at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School

PEABODY — There are a lot fewer students at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.

Enrollment has declined by 21 percent since 2012 to 1,436 this year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). During the same period, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the city’s population has grown by 2 percent.

Peabody School Superintendent Cara Murtagh and Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr., chairman of the School Committee, said the dip is the result of the 2014 opening of Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School in Danvers.

“The decline is, in part, due to the opening of Essex Tech, which draws students from the Higgins Middle School,” said Murtagh.

The state does not track high school students who attend other schools and the superintendent’s office did not supply the data. But school districts report the overall numbers of families who choose alternatives.

The percentage of high school students who opt for other educational settings in Peabody was unchanged from 2012 to 2019.

Of the 5,672 Peabody students last year, 20 percent, or 1,154 students, chose other options. Of the number, 716 attend private or parochial schools; another 284 go to Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School; 128 prefer out-of-district public schools, collaboratives, and charter schools; while 26 are home-schooled.

The percentage of students who opted out of Peabody in 2012 was also 20 percent. At the time, Peabody lacked a separate vocational school. Of the 5,893 students, 966 attended private or parochial schools; another 200 chose out-of-district public schools, collaboratives, charter schools; and 28 are home-schooled.

One fact is clear. The decline in enrollment at the high school has not benefited the regions’ private and parochial schools.

At St. Mary’s High School, a grades 6-12 Catholic, co-ed college-preparatory school, the number of Peabody students has dropped by nearly half since 2012.

This school year, 5.3 percent of St. Mary’s students are from Peabody, down 9.3 percent in 2012.

At Bishop Fenwick High School, a private, co-ed Catholic high school, the number of Peabody students fell to 23 percent this year, down from 29 percent in 2014.

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