The western half of Dakota County is getting grayer, and that could have a substantial impact on local schools, according to Independent School District 196 officials, who met on Monday to discuss long-range alternatives for the district's elementary schools.
For decades, new housing developments in cities like Eagan and Burnsville have drawn in young families and buoyed school enrollment levels in those communities. But that pattern is starting to shift, as the residents of Dakota County's traditional population centers age in place and new developments spring up in the central and eastern portions of the county, said Superintendent Jane Berenz.
"In the past, in [District] 196, it has always been about what happens when a school gets too big," Berenz said during the meeting. "But now discussion turning to what happens when they get smaller."
Nowhere is that more apparent than at schools like in Eagan, where enrollment has fallen from 457 students in 2007 to 372 in May 2012. But Thomas Lake isn't the only school to experience an enrollment decline. in Eagan fell from 566 students in 2007 to 394 in 2012, according to data provided by the district.
Meanwhile, schools like Parkview Elementary in Rosemount have seen enrollment climb from 669 students in 2007 to 786 students in 2012. The district's overall student population declined from 27,996 students in 2007 to 27,408 students in 2012.
"In Eagan, we’ve seen a lot of families staying in place," Berenz said. "They came for the schools, the kids went through the system and now those parents are staying."
Not every District 196 elementary school adheres to the trend, but those that do have jump started a high-level conversation in the district, Berenz said.
While any solutions may be a year or more in the future, Berenz said the district may consider adjusting elementary school boundaries or creating more magnet programs at smaller schools to bolster enrollment and attract additional students from outside the district.
The district currently has three magnet programs; one at , and two in Apple Valley—one at and another at . Each of those schools has experienced a significant enrollment increase over the last five years.
The district is also seeing an increasing number of minority students at many of its schools. In 2001, minority students made up 13.67 percent of the population. By 2011, that number grew to 30.4 percent, according to data released by the district. On a related note, the number of students receiving assistance through the district's free and reduced lunch program have also risen, school officials said.
Any changes to the district's elementary schools would be preceded by plenty of community conversation and engagement, Berenz said.
"Whatever we do, we always like to be thoughtful and do long term planning," Berenz said.
Enrollment Trends, District 196 Elementary Schools*
Enrollment May, 2007 Enrollment May, 2012 Cedar Park Elementary 497 675 Deerwood Elementary 489 537 Diamond Path Elementary 582 755 Echo Park Elementary 757 699 Glacier Hills Elementary 395 602 870 891 615 621 Northview Elementary 566 394 Oak Ridge Elementary 598 617 Parkview Elementary 669 786 Pinewood Elementary 716 595 Redpine Elementary 942 965 Rosemount Elementary 671 647 804 780 722 643 Thomas Lake Elementary 457 372 546 445 Woodland Elementary 507 479
*Data courtesy of Independent School District 196.