Increase in class enrollment

BRIAN DISCH teaches an algebra class at Norfolk High School Monday morning. Norfolk High, along with Bel Air Elementary, had the largest student enrollment increases this year at Norfolk Public Schools, with the high school graduating a small senior class and having a large freshman class. 

Enrollment numbers are up at several Norfolk schools for the 2017-18 school year.

Preliminary enrollment numbers show the largest growth at Norfolk Public Schools, with an increase of 48 students.

That gives the district 4,370 students in preschool through 12th grade.

“There are very few districts that aren’t along the I-80 corridor that are actually growing. Most of the schools that are not in that corridor are actually shrinking, and that often comes with less state aid and the need to look at cutting programs and cutting staff,” Superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson said. “So we’re very fortunate to not be in that situation, but to actually be looking at growing our programs and adding staff and doing more good things for kids.”

The district saw its biggest increases this year at Bel Air Elementary and the high school.

It will get its official enrollment numbers at the end of the month, and those numbers will be the basis of enrollment projections. Thompson said when she tabulates these projections, she’ll take a look at specific grade levels.

“One of the things that I’m noting is that a lot of the growth that we’ve seen at the elementary is now hitting our middle school,” Thompson said. “So we really need to take a look at the staffing in that building and make some determinations about whether we add staff to reduce those class sizes in the future, and then obviously we would anticipate that that growth would continue into junior high and senior high in the future.

“So we are just always looking at those numbers and trying to adjust staff to make sure that our class sizes are adequate to meet our student needs.”

Norfolk Catholic

Other schools are welcoming more students this year, too.

Norfolk Catholic has 646 students in grades preschool through 12th. That amounts to an increase of about eight students for the school.

"Well, obviously, we have area for growth within our school system, and that's what we're always after," high school principal Jeff Bellar said.

Bellar said Norfolk Catholic is open to any Catholic or Christian family, and each new student is a chance for the school to make a positive impact.

"It's important that we just educate as many children as we can in the way of Jesus' teaching and have a positive effect on our community and society as a whole," Bellar said.

Bellar sees the installation of a new school president, Don Ridder, earlier this year as a key part in helping the school continue to grow.

"We've put a president in place that can oversee the entire operation of the school system," Bellar said. "We're trying to build our advancement department, which in essence will bring more resources to our school to keep tuition at an affordable rate."

Lutheran High Northeast

Lutheran High Northeast also saw an eight-student increase, with 114 students overall. Principal Daniel Sievert said he credits a larger freshman class to this increase. The school also received several transfer students.

"We're hoping this will be a trend from here on out," Sievert said. "We're hoping with recruitment efforts and some more marketing and getting our message out there that we can attract more families in the future.”

Attracting more students is important to Lutheran High Northeast as a way to offer the best experience as possible.

"With more students we're able to offer more opportunities," Sievert said. "Certainly athletics plays a big part in schools, and our participation numbers we want to keep up and also for all our clubs and extracurricular groups. But most of all, we’d like to expand the electives we offer and add additional dual-credit classes. So growing enrollment would really facilitate that."

Specifically, the school likes to keep each class above 30 students, Sievert said, and with a smaller junior class this year, the school is hoping for a larger freshman class next year as well.

Keystone Christian Academy

Keystone Christian Academy saw a slight increase this year, too. The school has 40 students in preschool through 10th grade — with the high school grades being part time.

"I think we were expecting increases because of where we're going as a school," administrator Sharon Lotz said. "We're very much seeking like-minded families in terms of the vision of the school, and that creates greater internal consistency. We want to partner with parents and teachers for academic excellence, biblical world view and character training."

Lotz said Keystone has seen its enrollment grow as it connects with like-minded families. That like-mindedness is important to the school because it creates consistency for the student in both their home and school life, Lotz said.

"We believe there are optimal outcomes with that," she said. "What we want students to be able to be is academically prepared with quality character to be positive influences wherever they live."

St. Paul's Lutheran School

St. Paul's Lutheran School, on the other hand, saw a two-student decrease this year with one of its families moving away. It has 123 students in preschool through eighth grade.

However, principal Mike Paulsen said the school has been seeing growth in its lower grades.

"We're hoping to grow in the near future," Paulsen said. "But I would say it's not necessarily important that we're growing as much as it is important that we're reaching the kids that are entrusted in our care on a daily basis."

Paulsen said the school does set enrollment goals, but they remain flexible. The goal is normally to have 100 kids in kindergarten through eighth with 40 kids enrolled in preschool. There were 38 in preschool this year with 85 in kindergarten through eighth grade.

To attract families, Paulsen said St. Paul's hosts open houses and other outreach opportunities.

Christ Lutheran School

Christ Lutheran School, after a large increase last year, saw a slight dip this year in its numbers. The school has 306 students in preschool through eighth grade. Principal Steven Stortz said prior to this year, the school has been seeing an increase from year to year.

"One of the areas we would like to see our school grow is to those who are not necessarily Lutheran by upbringing," Stortz said. "We want to make a Christian education affordable to everybody that would desire it."

That’s why the school offers half-priced tuition to students who transfer and sets aside money to financially help families who may need it.

As the school looks to grow, it’s taking on some new projects, Stortz said.

For example, Christ Lutheran unveiled a new child care center this fall. Stortz said he hoped this would get more families acquainted with the school. The school also just purchased three houses to the north of its property to build a new playground.

Park Avenue Christian School

Park Avenue Christian School has two students this year, one in second grade and one in fifth grade. This is down from five students last year.

"We'd obviously love to grow, but that's where we're at," said the Rev. Arin Hess of Community Bible Church, which is associated with the school. "We're excited to have another year and impact students."

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