Area schools see rise in enrollment
STEWARTVILLE — A few more first-timers will walk through the doors of Stewartville's Bonner Elementary for the first day of school on Tuesday.
Stewartville schools Superintendent David Thompson said Stewartville's kindergarten class this year, with 178 students registered, is the largest kindergarten class the district has had so far, and roughly 50 more than a typical class.
To accommodate it, the school board agreed to add two sections and hire two teachers.
Fifty of the 178 students open-enrolled from other school districts — 37 from Rochester, eight from Kingsland, two from Southland, and one each from Fillmore Central, Grand Meadow and Hayfield.
Thompson believes the school district's all-day, every-day kindergarten program has drawn a lot of the students from outside school districts.
"Parents appreciate the fact that their children are getting a jump start of their lifetime education," Thompson said. "It's also because Bonner is an excellent school with excellent teachers."
Each section will have about 22 students.
"We had to make an art room into a kindergarten classroom, move the art room into the teacher's lounge and move the teachers lounge into a storage area in the media center," Thompson said.
A music classroom at Bonner Elementary has also been converted to a kindergarten room, he said.
Byron, Chatfield have smaller increases
Byron Superintendent Wendy Shannon said that district hasn't seen the surge in kindergarten numbers Stewartville has, but the district as a whole will see a slight increase — about 2 percent — for this school year.
Shannon said the Stewartville district has all-day, every-other-day kindergarten but would like to have an all-day, every-day program if it were funded by the state.
"Parents don't like to talk about it, but day care is a big issue," Shannon said.
With the job market in Rochester being better than other areas in the state, more families have moved to the area over summer, Shannon said.
Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris said the kindergarten class there is bigger than previous classes, but he didn't know how many of those had open-enrolled.
"I can't really speculate on why we're seeing an increase," said Harris, who's beginning his first year with the district.
The school district had 868 students last year and is expecting about 895 on the first day of school.
Enrollment increases at area school districts don't reflect a decrease in enrollment at Rochester Public Schools, spokeswoman Wendy Edgar said.
The Rochester school district also expects more students this year.
Last year, districtwide there were 16,285 students and this year 16,530 have registered.
There were 1,322 children in the kindergarten class last year and the same number registered this year. Rochester has half-day kindergarten.
Edgar said the first-grade class will have 1,344 students, meaning that class now has more students.
"We think some parents opt to enroll their kindergartners in a private, all-day, every-day kindergarten and then bring them back to a public school for first grade," Edgar said.
She believes districtwide enrollment numbers will drop come October.
"The number fluctuates a lot because sometimes families move over the summer and decide to enroll their kids in school at another district without notifying us," Edgar said. "We're up over 100, and that's a good thing."