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Sioux Falls Schools See Big Student Increase

October 17, 2011, 4:55 PM by Nicole Winters

Sioux Falls Schools See Big Student Increase
SIOUX FALLS, SD - As many South Dakota school districts struggle with declining enrollment, the Sioux Falls School District is seeing just the opposite.

Enrollment is up more than 500 students from last year.  If you add in Early Childhood programs, the number goes beyond 600. And while the district prepared for an increase, state funding cuts are causing challenges for some schools and classes.

"My biggest concern at the beginning of the year was space, and where I would be able to find room for eight more desks," 4th grade teacher Cathie Vortherms said.

All of the fourth grade classrooms are full at R.F. Pettigrew Elementary, with Vortherms' being the largest.

"Our fourth grade grew exponentially this year it seems," Principal Julie Hartmann said.

Hartmann says other grades are also expanding.  The school, set in the middle of a growing development on the southwest side of Sioux Falls, grew by 80 students in K-5 and 17 in Early Childhood education, forcing the school to add three more classrooms.

"It's a lot of students to supervise and watch, and serve throughout the school year," Hartmann said.

Class sizes have steadily increased at Pettigrew over the three years the building has been open.  With more desks and more bodies, it means more challenges for teachers.

"They're challenged by the extra duties, and the extra bodies in one room, and meeting the needs of all of those children," Hartmann said.

"Some days I wonder did I get the chance to talk to that little girl or that little boy because 31 kids, it is a challenge to meet and be able to connect with each of those kids every single day," Vortherms said.

Budget cuts haven't allowed for another fourth grade teacher at Pettigrew, but Vortherms does have an Educational Assistant three days a week.  That's helped her get more time with her students.

"We as teachers always make do when presented with a challenge," Vortherms said.

Hartmann says if R.F. Pettigrew sees the same kind of increase next year, the school will be at capacity and every classroom will be in use.

She believes the district may have to look at redrawing boundaries to help spread kids out.  The district has plans to build a new elementary school, however budget cuts have forced that project to be pushed back a couple years.

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