By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
The Lee County School District’s enrollment increased slightly this year, while the number of students attending Tupelo schools declined slightly.
Both districts varied less than 1 percent from where they were last year. Lee County added 59 students for a total of 7,177, while Tupelo lost 57 for an enrollment of 7,508.
Tupelo’s enrollment includes the Early Childhood Education Center, its pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. The district’s K-12 enrollment is 7,235 students.
Lee County’s largest growth came at Saltillo High School, which now has 925 students, or 49 more than last year. Guntown Middle, Mooreville High, Mooreville Elementary and Shannon Middle School each increased their enrollment by at least 20 students.
Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the biggest reason for Saltillo High School’s growth is large classes of younger students moving through the system and eventually reaching the high school.
For instance, he said, this year’s senior class at the school has 190 students, while the eighth-grade class at Guntown Middle has 278 pupils.
“Even though we graduate 190 kids, if all of these eighth-graders come back next year and become freshmen, we are still picking up almost 90 kids at Saltillo High School,” Weeks said.
“I think people have been moving into Saltillo for whatever reason over the last several years, whether they were coming for Toyota or buying a house in the county. A lot of them have school-aged kids, and each year we have seen more growth there.”
Meanwhile, Verona’s enrollment is 477 students, a decrease of 60 from last year. Shannon High School declined by 29 students.
The growth is leading the county to discuss plans to find more space.
“What it means for us in the long run is some additional school buildings or school campuses in the district,” Weeks said. “In the short run, it means we need to get on the stick about our long-range plans and doing what we need to do to build another school campus.”
Saltillo High School and Shannon High School particularly need more space, Weeks said. The plan may be to add to existing campuses rather than build new school campuses.
“I think, if we do determine we need to build a new school or two schools, it would require a bond issue at some point in time,” Weeks said. “I’m not sure when, and I hope the economy would improve by then. Without a bond issue, I don’t think there is any way we can build a school.”
Tupelo’s largest growth came at Tupelo Middle School, which grew by 82 students for a total of 1,127. Tupelo High School has 57 fewer students, or 2,095 total.
Tupelo’s data compare Sept. 30 of this year to Sept. 19, 2011, so the year-to-year comparison may be slightly skewed.
“Looking at the data as a whole, we don’t see any spikes or major decreases,” said TPSD Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon. “We are pretty flat.”
Dillon said district administrators continue to monitor the attendance throughout the year.
“We are always looking at those patterns to see if we have appropriate space and teacher units,” he said.
The only place the district is currently looking to expanded is the Early Childhood Education Center, Dillon said. Tupelo is working on a grant request to help it do so.
“With ECEC, we want to get more students involved in that program so that we can get more students better prepared for kindergarten,” Dillon said. “We are looking to expand that.
“Class sizes across the district are very good. We feel very confident in where we are across the district with our number and our capacity.”