Declining enrollment impacts teachers

Examining the changing population in Santa Clara County in the wake of the 2020 census


Aditya Pimplaskar

The freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors stand together in the gym during the 2014 Homecoming Rally. Though the rally began organized, chaos ensued near the end due to the confusion about the final results. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar

While the 2020 census data show an increase in 614,901 residents between 2010 and 2020, the FUHSD school district continues to contend with declining enrollment in its five high schools. According to the San Jose Spotlight, the population of Cupertino decreased by 780 between 2019 and 2020 alone.

Census data also show the Asian population in Santa Clara County has increased by 7.2%. Since moving to the Bay Area in 1984, AP Computer Science Principles and Precalculus teacher Scott DeRuiter has noticed how immigrant populations move in clusters to support each other financially and culturally.

“The demographics in Cupertino have changed incredibly in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” DeRuiter said. “But if you’re talking about the San Jose area, which is pretty much adjacent, not as much.”

DeRuiter used to teach at Prospect High School from 1988 to 1990 and was let go because of declining enrollment.

“That district Campbell Union High School District) closed a couple of schools, and I lost my job,” DeRuiter said. “And then now there’s declining enrollment [here].”

Since FUHSD is also experiencing declining enrollment — MVHS shrunk from 2,001 students last year to 1,850 this year and expects to be at 1,619 by the 2025-26 school year — AP Chemistry and Physics teacher Julie Choi is now in a similar situation.

“Because I’m the newest, I feel like there is a chopping block, every year,” Choi said. “And I’m looking at the possibility of ‘Oh, am I going to be leaving this year? And am I not going to be leaving this year? If I’m going to be leaving, what should I do with my life?’ And it’s kind of ironic, because when I say I’m a teacher, people are like ‘good for you — you have a great job security.’ But since I have become a teacher, I don’t think my job has been secure.”

Still, Choi sees the silver lining of getting smaller as many teachers no longer have to share classrooms.

DeRuiter believes another factor in the wave of declining enrollment is caused by young families growing up.The median age in Cupertino as of 2021 is 41.6 years, more than a two year increase from a decade ago. As the younger kids grow up, fewer students are enrolling in the lower grade schools.

Choi has noticed that some teachers have to teach at multiple schools in the district. For example, science teacher Kenneth Gan now teaches at MVHS and Cupertino High School.

“If you look at the way that the younger teachers are teaching, there is certainly a transition for them and their lifestyle as a result of declining enrollment,” Choi said. “If you ask the very tenured teachers, I’m sure they notice it, but I don’t think it’s as negative for them.”

History teacher Robbie Hoffman acknowledges that teachers who were the latest hires have been impacted the most.

“I have not been impacted,” Hoffman said. “Your spot in the district is based off of when you were hired, so the people that were hired last are lower on the depth chart. They’re the ones that get impacted the most at the school. So when you have declining enrollment and we lose the number of available classes, then you have to look at the lower people down on the list who were hired last.”

In addition to the smaller number of students, Choi has noticed that her friends from school are moving out of Cupertino in favor of more affordable housing in surrounding areas.

“If I looked at my friends in Cupertino, they’re not in Cupertino anymore,” Choi said. “But I don’t know if that reason is because it’s an affordability [issue] or because they decided to leave. If you ask most of the seniors, they don’t want to stay in Cupertino. They’re like, ‘We’re sick of this town — we want to get out and whatever.’ But, what they don’t realize is that once you get out, it’s hard to get in.”