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Student numbers are up in Willmar, Minn., and consistent in other area school districts

Students at Roosevelt Elementary School. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Willmar's schools are fitting in about 100 more students than they did a year ago.

The area's largest school district, Willmar had 4,135 students in all K-12 programs at the end of September. A year ago, the Oct. 1 enrollment was 4,036. Enrollment is about the same as it was two years ago at this time.

Enrollment decreased about 20 students each in the New London-Spicer, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Benson schools from 2011 to 2012.

In NLS, enrollment a year ago at this time was 1,427, and this year it's 1,407. ACGC's enrollment was 783 a year ago and is 762 now. Benson had 903 students a year ago and has 882 this year.

The Minnesota Department of Education uses the Oct. 1 enrollment report to determine state aid payments and other state assistance during a school year. Final aid amounts are determined after a school year, using a formula that calculates the average daily enrollment over an entire school year.

Every student signifies an increase or decrease of more than $5,000 in a district's state aid. The demographics of the student population can make a district eligible for other types of aid, too.

The additional students have contributed to some large classes in Willmar's lower grades, where the district has 334 kindergarteners, 328 first-graders and 329 second-graders, said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.

Having large classes in elementary school isn't the norm for rural school districts, which have seen enrollment decline for at least the last decade.

Kjergaard said the kindergarten class is larger than forecast. Other large classes this year are the 327 sixth-graders and 364 ninth-graders.

Willmar's enrollment figures include students from several alternative programs, including the Prairie Lakes Detention Center and the Area Learning Center alternative high school.

At the end of September, the district listed 145 students in four alternative programs.

Enrollment in the four traditional schools was 3,990 at the end of September and 3,899 a year ago, so most of the higher enrollment is in the traditional programs.

The district has 964 students in Kennedy Elementary School, 950 students in Roosevelt Elementary, 881 in the Middle School and 1,195 in the Senior High.

Kjergaard said the enrollment figures are good news to start the year. However, enrollment often fluctuates during the year, he said, so it's not realistic to expect it to stay at the current level all year.

"We could lose them," he said. "Some families move."

Willmar has immigrant families who come and go during a school year, though that number is not as large as it once was. The district gained enough stability several years ago to no longer qualify for funding for a summer migrant school.

"We had said we were hoping to stay around 4,000 kids," Kjergaard said.

The district's enrollment history indicates that enrollment has been stable, with small fluctuations around the 4,000 mark, for the past five to seven years.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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