by Jim Boyle


For only the third time in 20 years, the Elk River Area School District experienced an enrollment decrease on the opening day of school when looking back on opening day numbers from the previous school year.

District 728 started the 2019-20 school year with 13,686 students, and on Sept. 8 the district had 13,339 students, a 347 student decrease. That amounts to a decrease of about 2.5%.

Joe Stangler, the director of research and assessment for the school district, prefaced his report saying it’s different than his usual opening day reports.

“The numbers I present usually don’t have negative signs in front of them,” he said.

Stangler said the pandemic is one of the biggest reasons for the dip.

One number that stood out was the number of students who were with the district at the end of the last school year, and their parents have signed them up for homeschooling. That number sits at 175 students and could climb as parents have until Oct. 1 to file paperwork.

Generally speaking, however, decreases were seen almost across the board when looking at grades and schools, including the comparison between the number of seniors last year on opening day and the number of kindergarten students on opening day this year.

That number went from 1,085 seniors last year at the outset, and only 970 students entering kindergarten on Sept. 8.

That 115-student drop was a surprise, Stangler said, noting a good share of those numbers could be attributed to parents holding their children off for a year hoping for them to enter school the following year under more normal circumstances.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were expecting to see about 1,085 students,” Stangler said.

There were schools that still experienced an increase, including Prairie View Elementary School (+37), Rogers Elementary (+2), Prairie View Middle School (+14), Rogers High School (+21), Ivan Sand Community High School (+21) and Compass (+3).

Certain grades also experienced increases: third grade (+73) and 11th grade (+42).

One of the more telling enrollment models Stangler looks at is the cohort enrollment, which looks at the numbers from one grade to the next up through 12th grade. The 12th grade is then compared to the influx of kindergarten students. It represents true growth or true loss.

That’s one of the reasons for Prairie View Elementary’s growth. The number of students in fifth grade who left Prairie View was very small compared to the number of elementary school children coming in, Stangler said.

This year, the elementary school enrollments for the most part are smaller than they were last year, Stangler said.

“Most of our elementary schools and middle schools lost,” Stangler said. “The (decreases at 9th and 10th grade) were smaller.”

The number of 11th grade students from last year who are now enrolled as seniors increased. Also some 12th grade students from last year show up as 12th grade again this year when they are being taught as seniors at Compass and Ivan Sand Community High School. There are 53 more seniors this year compared to last year, but the number that makes the most impact is that the 1,085 students in 12th grade on the opening day last year were replaced with 970 kindergarten students.

“Many of the families have said they will home-school this year and return the following when hopefully the pandemic is over,” Stangler said.

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