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Area school enrollments surprisingly stable

Posted 8/30/16 (Tue)

By Cecile Wehrman
Though the trend may be even, to down slightly, the stability of area school enrollments is a pleasant surprise for area administrators and staff.
Divide County Superintendent Sherlock Hirning said a lot of “naysayers” predicted the district would lose 50 students between June and August.
In fact, the district lost 40 -- but what the naysayers didn’t take into account is a crop of kindergarteners to replace a small graduating class last spring -- along with 10 high school students and 13 elementary students who moved into  the district.
“That’s 23 new kids over the summer,” said Hirning.
The net loss to the district is just two students compared to the end of the last term -- and only five fewer than last fall. The district’s enrollment topped out in 2013 at 369 students.
Given the downturn in the oil industry -- and the fact new students continue to arrive -- Hirning is pleased.
“It appears we’re pretty stable at that 340 to 350 mark,” he said.
For Tioga, sitting at 455 students, the story is much the same. Though the district is down 39 students from its 2014-15 high, they’re actually up 15 students from last spring. Superintendent Carolyn Eide is as perplexed as Hirning as to why there continues to be so much movement of students.
“I know where they are going, but what are they coming to?” she asked.
“We have a lot of movement. Close to 10 percent,” she said, along with a kindergarten crop of 43 students -- 10 more than last year.
The news could certainly be worse, but the change in student population over the past two years, Eide said, equates to a loss of about a quarter million in state aid.
Two schools in the region -- Powers Lake and Grenora -- are even this year with their highest fall enrollment ever.
“We’ve lost some and gained some,” said Powers Lake School Secretary Dana Christensen, but overall, the trend has remained positive. That’s especially gratifying since Powers Lake and Grenora are among the districts whose patrons have invested millions of dollars to better handle their schools’ burgeoning enrollments.
Grenora Superintendent Troy Walters said his district gained eight students over the summer.
“We ended the year last year with 168,” and the current enrollment is the highest ever for a fall.
As in Divide County, the net gain of a handful of students is an indicator of much greater movement than just a few families.
“We probably gained 30 kids last year and lost 29,” he said, and students who remain are a little less likely to welcome new students or get to know them.
“They’re scared to develop a relationship,” he said. “All of a sudden, poof! They’re gone.”
The Ray district is starting the year up 14 students from last spring, but expects to lose another 8 to 10 students. Superintendent Ben Schafer believes the number of new families who have remained says good things about the community and the school district.
“You hope that’s why people move here and stay,” he said.
Burke Central, for its size, took a significant hit.
“We’re down about 18 from the end of the school year,” said Sherry Lalim, Burke Central superintendent in Lignite. “Given the downturn in oil, we could be down a whole lot more, I guess.”
Lalim said she was hoping to hang on to more students, but small North Dakota towns can’t provide everything a transplanted family needs.
“The ones who left were because of family. They didn’t have any family around here,” said Lalim.
The smallest school in the region, Westby, expects to gain two more students after Labor Day, to bring enrollment within three students of its all time high fall enrollment.