This year’s state-mandated student census, held annually at the start of October, showed a slight dip in enrollment across nearly all Island schools. But while overall numbers have remained relatively stable for more than 15 years, superintendent of schools Richard Smith said English language learners and children with disabilities now make up a significant presence at nearly every school.

“The numbers have largely remained consistent, [but] student populations have changed within those numbers,” Mr. Smith told the Gazette this week.

The Oct. 1 census tallied 2,184 students Islandwide. That number is a slight dip from an all-time high of 2,253 students registered last October, but above a 15-year low of 2,027 in 2011.

The only schools to report an increase were Chilmark, with three additional students, and Tisbury, with one. Every other campus has lost roughly 20 students over the past year, according to the October census.

Overall student enrollment has fluctuated within a modest range since 2007, when there were 2,120 students in town schools and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. That number that fell to 2,081 in 2008, according to a report from Mr. Smith’s office.

For eight of the past nine years, the numbers stayed above 2,100, passing 2,200 for the first time in 2022.

The census numbers do not include the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, which educates children in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The October census report includes limited student information, indicating only the number of boys and girls in each school. But the state education department’s data from May 2023 shows that English language learners represent a significant percentage of students at down-Island schools: 33.8 per cent in Tisbury, 25.3 per cent in Oak Bluffs and 22.8 per cent in Edgartown.

Children whose first language is not English, but who are no longer classified as English learners, make up an even larger proportion: 56.6 per cent in Tisbury, 33.1 per cent in Oak Bluffs and 40.8 per cent in Edgartown.

At the high school, 14.5 per cent of students are English learners and another 29.1 per cent are not native English speakers.

English learners represent just 4.1 of the children in up-Island schools, with non-native speakers another 9.5 per cent.

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School serves the fewest English learners at 2.2 per cent, while an additional 4.4 per cent speak English as a second language. But the charter school has the Island’s largest proportion of children with disabilities at 24.9 per cent, according to the state.

At the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs schools, the percentage of students with disabilities is essentially equal at 23.1 and 23.

In Tisbury and the up-Island district, children with disabilities make up 19.9 per cent of each student body and at the regional high school they account for 18.9 per cent.

Mr. Smith said the Island is seeing a wave of young children with disabilities and behavioral issues entering the school system.

“Where we have seen huge growth is in our early childhood programs,” he said. “We continue to see kids with... challenging needs coming into our kindergarten program and our pre-K program, Project Headway.”

It’s not just a Vineyard issue, he added. School districts across the state are experiencing the fallout from remote learning during the Covid-19 lockdowns that began in 2020.

“We’re seeing an uptick in discipline issues, and we’re seeing an uptick in children who really didn’t get preschool programming, you know, in their early grades in their earliest years,” Mr. Smith said.

“We asked Hope [MacLeod, special education coordinator for Island schools] to talk with other colleagues across Massachusetts... and she heard back from 41 districts, who essentially were saying the same thing: that they’re seeing this growing need in all ages, but in particular, our youngest kids,” he said.

Next year’s budget for special education services — which originate at district headquarters but are available to all Island schools — will include additional teachers for Project Headway, Mr. Smith said.

“[This is] the year that we felt like we just really just flat out needed to grow with more staffing,” he said.