School district’s website shows student diversity changes

Published Dec 2, 2017 at 4:00pm

The Rome school district’s student population has become more diverse in its ethnic mix over the past 18 years, as reflected in current demographic data that the district has begun posting on its website home page.

District students are about 80.5 percent white, 8.9 percent African-American, 7.3 percent Hispanic, and 1.2 percent Asian, among categories cited from 2016-17 school year data under a “diversity and unity” heading on the home page.

In comparison, Rome district students in 1999-2000 were about 89.4 percent white, 6.3 percent African-American, and 2.7 percent Hispanic, while a category that grouped Asian, American Indian, Alaskan or Pacific Islander totaled about 1.5 percent.

That data is from a state Education Department archive file online, reflecting the earliest school year with immediately available information.

Those proportions have gradually shifted since 1999-2000. In 2005-06, for example, Rome district students were about 86 percent white, 7 percent African-American and 4 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the state.

Student demographics, plus details for other categories such as the budget and athletic participation, are now being posted on the district home page as “general information” for “someone who wants to know about our school district,” said Superintendent Peter C. Blake.

The purpose of the home page is to “be informational,” said Blake, noting that people today “don’t want to click on things” to find information and instead “want it right there provided for them.”

Regarding the district’s current ethnic mix, Blake said they are “all our kids” regardless of race or ethnicity.

Board of Education Vice President Paul Hagerty, the board’s longest serving member at more than 16 years, said when asked Thursday about the student demographic shifts that he does not recall it being a board topic. But he said “I think everybody knows in general” that such population changes do “not involve only students” but can apply to the general population.

Hagerty commented that “all of upstate New York” has had shifts in population. He also noted that the Hispanic population has seen overall growth, for instance. In addition, he observed that the influx of various refugees into the Utica area in recent years has “obviously changed the makeup” of populations there, and “I would imagine some of that” impact may have extended to the Rome area.

The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica has been a factor in that city’s refugee population.

Regarding demographics overall, Hagerty said among the statistics that “we pay the most attention to” in the school district include state-test academic performances of students in lower socio-economic groupings plus students with disabilities.

The Rome district’s enrollment in grades K-12 totaled about 5,401 students at the start of the current 2017-18 school year, up from about 5,347 in 2016-17. Enrollment was higher in 1999-2000, totaling about 6,156 for K-12, according to the state.

It had plunged rapidly after Griffiss Air Force Base’s closing was announced in 1993 and took full effect in 1995, falling from 8,077 in 1993-94 to 6,537 by 1995-96.

Blake, who came to the Rome district in November 2015 as Rome Free Academy principal and became district superintendent in July 2016, said when asked whether the Griffiss closing affected the district’s population mix that such factors “could be skewed.” It could be “hard to tell, just looking at the numbers,” he remarked.