Steamboat district enrollment to hit record

Schools expect to have highest number of students

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Steamboat Springs School Board meeting tonight

Steamboat Springs School Board members tonight will consider approving an agreement between the developers of Steamboat 700 and the school district. The tentative agreement reached Aug. 13 stipulates that both entities would split the cost to build a $25 million school to accommodate new students as a result of the development in west Steamboat Springs and a $5 million expansion of the high school.

The School Board meeting begins at 6 p.m. today at Centennial Hall on 10th Street. The Steamboat 700 agenda item is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

— Steamboat Springs School District officials anticipate record enrollment when classes begin this morning.

According to the district's most recent enrollment count, 2,086 students - a number that doesn't include an estimated 20 students in alternative classes - will attend Steamboat schools this year, up from 2,080 last year, said Debbie Ginesta, secretary to the superintendent. The school system had to add first and sixth grade classes to accommodate the surge.

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham thinks the economic recession has played a role in the district's growth - some students have transferred from area private schools. She added that increased kindergarten and first-grade enrollment indicates more young families have moved to Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said the influx of new students was more than he anticipated, considering the economy. He thought more families would have left Steamboat. Instead, the district has 179 sixth-graders this year, up from 161 last year.

He said that total includes 30 students new to his school and some transfers from private schools. What's unusual, Bishop said, is the number of students the middle school didn't lose during the course of the summer. He said 15 to 20 students usually move away from the district any given summer.

"I thought with the economy, we'd lose some existing students," Bishop said. "We've had very few move out the district. We've lost less students leaving Steamboat than we have in years past."

Adding a sixth-grade teacher means the average class size in that grade decreased from 27 last year to between 22 and 23 this year. An additional seventh-grade teacher decreased those class sizes to between 23 and 24 students.

Bishop said the sixth- and seventh-grade class sizes are the lowest he can remember in his 11 years at the middle school.

District enrollment projections indicate a total of 492 students at the middle school, up from 480 last year. For that matter, enrollment is anticipated to increase at each Steamboat school except Strawberry Park Elementary School. But officials acknowledge that even that school's enrollment could jump during the first couple weeks of the year.

Soda Creek Elementary School's enrollment is increasing from 441 last year to 446 students this year. Strawberry Park's decreased to 483 from 503 students last year. Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman said the school's enrollment has increased 40 students from last year.

There are 165 freshmen this year, compared with last year's graduating class of 127. Ginesta said if the high school's junior class of 189 students stays intact, it will be the largest graduating class in district history.

The district will record enrollment numbers every day for the first two weeks of school to get a better idea of how many students are attending Steamboat schools, Ginesta said. She said some students who weren't enrolled before today's first day of classes will add to the numbers. The official student count used to determine how much funding a school district receives won't be taken until Oct. 1.

Coupled with the district's record enrollment, Cunningham said there's a sense of stability among the faculty. This year also marks the first time in several years that no construction projects have been under way during the start of school, and there wasn't any turnover in district administration, including principals.

Cunningham said she sensed that the district's faculty was relieved with that stability at the top, what she called a "solid team of high-quality people."

"Now we can focus on that which we do best," she said. "We don't have anything really distracting us at all this year. We're all focused, and we're all on the same page."

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