Several southeast South Dakota schools have more students than ever before. Here is a look at how fast they are growing:
Brandon's superintendent estimates his district has 130 more students this year than last year. Harrisburg has 272 new students. Sioux Falls is up 200 and Tea has 100 more students than last year.
The growth goes beyond the Sioux Falls area to Brookings, where school leaders have more students than they expected. As more students come in, exiting students understand why families are drawn to the district. This is the last year 18-year-old Mariah Livingston will walk the hallways as a student in the Brookings School District.
"Growing up with all my friends and we're so close. Our whole class just gets along," Mariah Livingston said.
This year, there are even more boys and girls to get to know. The district has 92 more students than last year. The only problem is school leaders only planned and budgeted for 80. So, what's the big deal about 12 extra students? Superintendent Klint Willert says the number is bigger than you would think.
"It has created some challenges. In fact, prior to the school year -- one week before the teachers came back to school -- I had to authorize the hire of an additional kindergarten teacher; just because of the growth we're experiencing," Willert said.
Willert and many other superintendents say hiring in a hurry is tricky, but filling teaching jobs in general is hard by itself.
"There's a limited pool of resources when you look at the number of teachers available," Willert said.
If there are even more students in the future, Willert and the district are working with a team to prepare for future growth and accommodate it.
Willert credits Brookings' economic growth and SDSU's growth as reasons why more people are moving to town. The school district actually just opened a new elementary school at the beginning of this school year. Livingston says the new students are in good hands at the schools. As she looks forward to her senior year, she says she will miss the high school hallways once she walks across the stage in the spring.
"Graduation is coming up and it's kind of scary, but it should be fun after," Livingston said.