One week into the new school year, the Columbia County School System already has hit an all-time high enrollment and is projected to keep growing as more students filter in through Labor Day, according to Associate Superintendent Jeff Carney.
Enrollment reached 25,201 students on Tuesday – about 600 more than what the system started and ended with in the 2013-14 academic year.
Carney said district officials believe the growth is the result of military families trickling in to Evans and Grovetown as the Army prepares to develop its Cyber Command headquarters on Fort Gordon.
J.C. Mathews, Fort Gordon’s public affairs officer, said that although the manpower for the Cyber Command will not arrive before 2017, the Army post is experiencing other growth that brought nearly 500 new service members and their families last year and a projected 1,100 this year.
Although officials in Richmond County expect to receive some of the incoming families from Fort Gordon’s expansion – enough to begin planning for a new K-8 school in west Augusta – the district’s schools have had a slower start.
Richmond County schools opened Monday with 28,091 students, fewer than the 30,436 enrolled in the first week last year and the 31,342 that ended that year.
Superintendent Frank Roberson said that the fluctuation is natural and that he expects about 3,000 more students to continue registering until Labor Day, a trend that has played out for the past several years.
“We’ve always received historically about 3,000 students in the first two to three weeks of school, so we’re looking for that to still be the case,” Roberson said. “We should end up probably somewhere around 30,000.”
To accommodate the extra students in Columbia County, the district set up about 24 portable classrooms at various schools, Carney said. There are also potential plans to build additional classroom wings onto Baker Place and Cedar Ridge elementary schools.
Carney said the elementary schools have had the highest enrollment growth, with Baker Place in Grovetown and Lewiston in Evans seeing the largest increases.
During the summer, district facilities staffers set up about eight additional portables at Baker Place to brace for the influx, Carney said.
Lewiston Place Principal Mike Doolittle said enrollment reached 878 on Tuesday, an increase of 143 students from last year. The school has had to increase the number of classes and hire four additional teachers than originally projected.
With continued construction in the community surrounding the elementary school on Hereford Farm Road in Evans, Doolittle said, he expects even more students to register in coming weeks.
Although they haven’t needed them yet, school officials are prepared to fill up their two portables if needed.
“It’s kept us pretty busy,” Doolittle said. “We expected growth, but we didn’t expect all this. Over the past two to three years our growth has come slow and steady, but this year it was just fast.”