Following a summer of largely negative news regarding the region’s economy and job outlook, local school officials were more than pleasantly surprised when local student enrollment was mostly up in Harlan County during the first week of school.
Expectations were that Harlan County would not only continue to see its annual loss of about 100 students a year due to population decline as jobs leave the Appalachian coalfields, but the number of students lost might be among the highest in 50 years.
When the school districts added up their first week’s enrollments, the numbers were a pleasant surprise to everyone.
Harlan County Schools had a total enrollment of 4,116 at the end of week one, which is 101 students more than at the end of the 2011-12 school year and 22 more than they reported for the end of the prior year’s first week
Harlan Independent Schools reported 817 during the first week of school, which is three more than were enrolled there at the end of August 2011.
During Thursday evening’s regular meeting of the Harlan County Board of Education, Superintendent Mike Howard said he was most pleased by a significant increase in the number of kindergarten students this year. Kindergarten enrollment district-wide stands at 380.
Howard said he was greatly encouraged by the fact the combined Kindergarten and first grades in county schools were the largest enrollments seen in some time.
“We saw nothing in the census projections to indicate this would happen,” Howard said. “We don’t really know what to attribute it to. There are a lot of factors involved.”
The closure of the school in Keokee, Va., may account for some of the increase in the Clover Fork area, but not enough to account for the numbers being seen there, Howard added. For example, Black Mountain elementary is 48 kids ahead of where they were last year, he noted, while Evarts elementary is up five.
The district did not have nearly that many crossing state lines to attend school in the past, Howard said.
Enrollment at Harlan County High School was 1,138 during the first week. While that is only three students more than during the same time last year, it is 68 more than at the end of the year and with attendance and graduation rates improving, the typical decline seen at the high school during the year could be expected to decrease.
Some schools did report a decline in their enrollment numbers, according to a report presented to board members. Cawood Elementary and Cumberland elementary had dropped by double-figure amounts, while James A. Cawood elementary was down nine from prior year. Green Hill elementary also noted a small decline of three students.
Overall the numbers were up and it added to an overall good start to the school year, the new superintendent said.
“I am very happy for our district, but especially our schools,” said Howard. “When you lose students, you lose staff. And, at the same time, you are still held accountable for all of the state and federal mandates. Our schools are very good schools.
“I believe people are choosing Harlan County Schools because of the educational enhancement opportunities being offered,” Howard added. “I certainly attribute some of the overall increase to the expanding curriculum at Harlan County High School which includes very low cost dual credit college courses.
“Parents are seeing the benefit of this program when students are graduating from high school with a substantial number of college credit hours,” he continued. “We have some students who have earned college sophomore status by the time they walk across the stage and get their high school diploma.”