By Terry Dean
Enrollment at Oak Park and River Forest High School is the highest it's been since the early 2000s and the trend indicates significant increases over the next decade.
That trend is largely tied to exploding enrollment in elementary school District 97 — a result of its full-day kindergarten program.
Steven Larson of Ehlers and Associates, a school consulting firm based in Lisle, says the kindergarten program, which launched district-wide in 2009, will impact the high school's enrollment in the coming years.
Larson presented his company's findings to OPRF officials on Dec. 21 during a regular high school board meeting. His firm conducted separate studies of enrollment at both Oak Park school districts last year. D97's was occurred last spring and summer. Ehlers has not conducted a full study of District 90's enrollment but did look at some of its data in relation to D97 and OPRF. Larson said D90's enrollment has held steady over the last decade at around 5,000 students.
OPRF's overall student body had remained stable since 2002 when it topped 2,900. But enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year is roughly 3,200.
Larson expects OPRF's enrollment to go up by 287 students by 2016. A decade from now, he predicts it will reach nearly 4,000 kids. That's an increase of about 670 students — a projection of approximately 3,889. OPRF hasn't topped 4,000 students since the early 1970s.
Over in D97 — which has about 5,500 students currently — they're projected to reach roughly 6,000 kids by 2015, according to the firm's earlier study. Larson said those students will likely move through the D97 system and on to the high school.
"Kindergarten, and what's been happening at the kindergarten level, is a big driver here. We did an enrollment study for Oak Park 97 this summer and spring, and we got a lot of really good information from that, and that kind of led to [the OPRF] study," Larson said. "We were seeing big enrollment increases there at 97, and so what happens in 97 will most likely happen in your high school district."
The bad economy has affected where parents send their kids, Larson noted, with many opting for public as opposed to private schools. Another factor affecting enrollment, he added, is families moving to Oak Park and remaining here because of the schools. Available affordable housing options in certain sections of town also impacts enrollment, Larson said.
Southeast Oak Park has attracted families because of the affordable housing available there and, in turn, enrolling their kids in Lincoln, Longfellow and Irving schools located in the south part of town.
"That means more people are moving into all of your districts here," Larson said.