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Enrollment numbers for Oak Park’s public elementary school district are expected to grow by nearly 600 students in the next five years, according to data compiled by a consultant looking into the district’s growth.

That growth is largely tied to District 97’s full-day kindergarten program, which launched district-wide in the fall of 2009, explained Steve Larson, an executive vice president with Lisle-based Ehlers and Associates.

Larson, who presented the firm’s findings at the D97 July 26 school board meeting, added that Brooks and Julian middle schools will experience the most growth. At the elementary schools, Lincoln and Irving should see significant growth. Larson said south Oak Park, particularly around Irving School has affordable housing that is attracting new families.

The district as a whole has been experiencing growth the last 3-4 years, Larson added, citing the all-day K program as a cause. Those kindergarteners, he noted, will likely stay in the district and move through the system.

“That usually means there are more families coming into your district than are leaving your district,” Larson said. “That alone is going to be a significant factor because what happens is when you have large kindergarten enrollment, that will grow over time throughout your grades, and that’s why you’re growing.”

Another factor has been the downturn in the economy, Larson explained, resulting in families enrolling their kids in public schools more than private.

District 97’s enrollment has been trending upward since the mid-2000s, according to the district’s enrollment records. Currently, the district has about 5,500 students enrolled in its eight elementary schools and two middle schools as of the 2010-2011 school year. In the next five years, the district will be looking at about 6,000 kids total by the 2015-2016 school year, according to Larson.

The consultants also looked at each grade level with respect to capacity.

All of the elementary schools are suitable at the third- through fifth-grade levels while Holmes and Lincoln are the best suited for kindergarten through second grade. Larson explained that those schools have the most space on its first floor for kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Irving, he added, also has good space.

D97 Supt. Albert Roberts, himself a former elementary school principal, added that kindergarten classrooms are more ideal on the first floor because the kids don’t have to climb a lot of stairs.

Larson noted that the district is already addressing space and classroom capacity issues. Lincoln School, 1111 S. Grove, for instance, is currently under construction to add two classrooms, as well as reconfiguring its first floor to add a secure entrance into the building.

Larson said Beye and Irving schools will likely face capacity issues in the next five years.

The firm’s report was based on enrollment data from September 2010. The consultants also looked at each school building and surrounding grounds. Larson said playground areas for each school need to be upgraded, something the district has been talking about for some time.

District 97 Enrollment Report

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