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Student numbers on rise

WORTHINGTON -- The District 518 school board instructional committee met Monday to discuss various items, among them enrollment projections for the upcoming school year and subsequent years.

School
ryan mcgaughey/daily globe Students head for the buses Monday afternoon following a day of classes at Worthington's Prairie Elementary. Projected enrollments are forecasting additional students at the already crowded school.

WORTHINGTON -- The District 518 school board instructional committee met Monday to discuss various items, among them enrollment projections for the upcoming school year and subsequent years.

Current enrollment for the district is estimated in the 2,400 range. It appears enrollment will continue to expand in the 2011-2012 school year, which is both an accomplishment and a cause for concern for a district already struggling to accommodate its increasing student population.

Administrators predict enrollment the high school to be at 769 at for the 2011-2012 school year, an increase from the 744 students enrolled at the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Student enrollment projections at the middle school are expected to decrease slightly, as enrollment is predicted to be at 705 -- a decrease from the 713 predicted last year.

Fifth-grade students were moved to the middle school at the start of the 2010-2011 school year in an effort to ease overcrowding issues at Prairie Elementary. Yet the overcrowding saga has resurfaced, as Prairie Elementary Principal Josh Noble predicts enrollment for 2011-2012 to be at 1,056, an increase from the current 983.

The increase is due to the large incoming kindergarten class, which is estimated to be in the 240 range. District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard noted enrollment projections at the elementary level were high, yet manageable, and added that numbers tend to slightly decrease as the school year progresses.

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"I think if we hit the 270 mark we would be talking about a more serious issue," Landgaard said of the large incoming class. "I think at this point we have the space there (Prairie Elementary) that we can deal with that (increase)."

Meanwhile, there is still concern for what the future holds for the district.

"What happens when that 240 or 270 reaches the middle school and pushes on into the high school?" asked school board member Steve Schnieder of the incoming kindergarten class.

For the time being Landgaard believes the schools can accommodate enrollment projections, adding the fifth-grade move to the middle school was made with the belief that increased enrollment would be a continuing trend.

"I think we have the space that we will accommodate them (kindergarten class) because we planned for a maximum of 840 in this building (middle school)," Landgaard explained. "There will be some shifting of rooms, but the problem really hits when they enter the high school in seven years. Based on the current structure of the high school, I'm not sure we can accommodate that (number)."

Despite the increase in enrollment, Noble cited student-teacher ratios have remained at an appropriate level.

Projected enrollment at Prairie Elementary could place student-teacher ratios for the 2011-2011 school year as follows:

* 248 currently enrolled in kindergarten with 11 sections, a 22.5:1 student-ratio;

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* 216 currently enrolled in first grade with 10 sections, a 21.6 student-ratio;

* 210 students enrolled in second grade with 10 sections, a 21:1 student-teacher ratio;

* 188 students enrolled in third grade with eight sections, a 23.5:1 student-teacher ratio;

* 194 students enrolled in fourth grade with eight sections, a 24.25:1 student-teacher ratio.

"I think we're really doing really well in terms of what other schools are doing," Noble said regarding the student-teacher ratio. "When I start to look at these numbers in my mind I will use a 20 number for kindergarten, a 21 number for first grade, and 22 for second grade, 23 for third grade and 24 for fourth grade. We can't always get there (to that student-teacher ratio), but that is what I would like to do. And that's the best case scenario; I realize that's not always what's going to happen."

"In these economic times and compared to many of the schools around the state, or even the nation, these are great numbers," Landgaard added.

Because enrollment is predicted to expand, Landgaard said there were possibilities of making changes at one of the school buildings, more sharing of classrooms and acquiring another building to accommodate students. School board members and administrators continue to speculate on how to resolve the issue. According to Landgaard, it will continue to reoccur.

"I don't see this district not continuing to grow for a while," Landgaard added. "It may stabilize a little bit for a few years, but, depending on what goes on, it could continue to grow for years to come."

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