Even in pandemic, SL school enrollment continues to swell

Friday, October 23, 2020

“Shocked,” was the term Superintendent Stacey Cole used to describe the Storm Lake School’s newly certified enrollment for fall 2020, which shows an increase of 82 students.

It isn’t the increase that shocks, as the district has been growing steadily for a number of years, but the fact that such growth comes in the midst of a pandemic, when many districts are bleeding student numbers with families choosing to home school.

Although the numbers rose, the impact does not feel as obvious under the protections against COVID-19, without crowded passing in the hallways, Cole said.

Currently, high schoolers are attending half days and studying half days online, with some classes moved out to nearby churches. Some of the middle school students are attending classes at the high schools, and younger students are in small pods for all their studies, to decrease exposure to virus spread. The increasing enrollment would be felt more strongly next school year, assuming attendance can return to normal.

The increase is spread evenly among the schools.

The high school level is up about 25. The already overcrowded middle school and elementary are also both up. The elementary, built for 850 capacity, is now at 1,040. The middle school with 600 capacity is at 750.

While the new early elementary school is being built, to open for second semester next year, Cole said that with current numbers, if kindergarten was pulled out to the new building, the elementary would still be at capacity. The highest class numbers remain at the lowest levels - kindergarten, first and second grades are the three largest population levels.

Outside students aren’t shying away from the larger district, even in a year of COVID-19. Open enrollment into the district who resident in other districts is at 189, while open enrollment out is 68.

School board member Dave Skibsted said that often people talk about not liking Storm Lake, but when it comes to education, “a lot of people are wanting to get in.”

Supt. Cole said she is grateful for the growth. Many districts around the state which have already seen enrollment losses are now struggling with worse losses to home schooling that Storm Lake experienced, leaving them worried about per-pupil funding drops next school year.

She admitted that she worried about such losses ahead of the school year. “I had panic attacks - what happens if kids just go? Nobody knows exactly what could happen in a pandemic.”