By Terry Dean
District 97 projects that next year's enrollment could hit 5,900 students, the largest number of kids enrolled since the 1970s when enrollment was well over 6,000.
Kindergarten registration last spring is helping to push up next year's numbers, as a larger-than-usual number of families have so far registered for the program, according to D97 officials.
A total of 494 kids registered for kindergarten in May, a higher number than last year's totals, said Steve Cummins, the director of human resources. In all, 514 kids have registered so far for kindergarten as an additional 20 youngsters registered for the program in June.
"We will see what transpires over the summer, but the May data at this time appears to suggest that families were more pro-active in registering during the spring registration dates than in the prior year," Cummins said.
The district, he added, will have a better idea of actual enrollment numbers by August. The district had roughly 600 enrolled by the start of the last school year.
Overall, the district is inching closer to the 6,000 student population, as projected by 2018, according to the district's consultant, Ehlers and Associates, which has done enrollment studies for both D97 and District 200. By 2020, D200's enrollment is expected to be roughly 3,900 students — current enrollment is about 3,200 kids.
D97's enrollment is approaching levels not seen in more than 40 years. From 1971 to 1977, enrollment was over 6,000, the highest year being 1975 at roughly 6,400 students. By 1977, enrollment dropped to 5,710 students and continued a downward trend in subsequent years.
By 1980, enrollment fell below 5,000 and hovered in the 4,000 range for rest of the decade. The '90s began with enrollment at just under 5,000, exceeding that mark beginning in the 1991-1992 school year with 5,073 students.
Enrollment dipped below 5,000 kids again by 2002. But following the launch of full-day kindergarten across the district in 2008-2009, enrollment began its steady upward climb to the current 5,800 student body figure. That trend has also impacted D200 as students move up to the high school, according to Ehlers.
Both districts are exploring how to increase space and add more staff to accommodate the influx of students. Cummins said D97 has not reached any tipping point for the coming school year, but space needs are a concern.
"We look at enrollment numbers by building and determine the number of sections accordingly," he said. "Adding additional classroom sections, at kindergarten or other grade levels, is a concern in several of our buildings where there are more building space constraints. In these situations, we can consider utilizing other options, such as having a teacher's assistant in a classroom with a teacher who has a larger number of students."