School enrollments in Northern Virginia continued a decade-old trend this fall, with the five major school districts again recording enrollment declines.

There was some good news, however, particularly in Alexandria, which had a drop in its student population of less than 1 percent.

The other four districts all reported declines of less than 3 percent from last fall.

"This is a vote of confidence for our school system," said James P. Akin, assistant to the superintendent for research, planning and evaluation, as he announced the Sept. 30 Alexandria enrollment figures.

Last year, Alexandria enrollment had dropped by almost 4 percent, and this year school officials were braced for a decline of as much as 5 percent.

They were surprised, however, when final computer tabulations showed a total of 10,734 students as of Sept. 30, compared with 10,838 last fall. Secondary schools, according to Akin, were the areas where actual enrollment most exceeded projections.

"I am very much encouraged by these figures because it would appear that we now are losing people due only to economic factors of gradually declining population in the entire Washington area," said Akin. "And you could not attribute this small decline to white flight or the lack of public confidence in the schools."

Prince William County reported a 1.4 percent enrollment decline over last fall, with 35,761 students as of Sept. 30. School officials said the figure was 339 students more than had been projected.

The other three districts -- Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties -- have not yet computed final fall enrollments, taken throughout the state on Sept. 30.

In Arlington, preliminary figures taken Sept. 16 showed 14,710 students, a 3 percent drop over last year. Superintendent Charles E. Nunley has called those early figures a reflection of a "changing attitude toward public schools."

Fairfax County reported a student enrollment this fall of 123,785, based on Sept. 15 counts, which represents a 1.7 percent drop over last fall.

Loudoun County reported that a preliminary count taken on Sept. 11 showed 13,102 students enrolled. That represents a loss of 2.6 percent from last year.

Officials in all three jurisdictions expect those declines to be somewhat lower when the final figures are tabulated, however, noting that the later counts traditionally are higher than mid-September enrollments.