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Estacada School District Officials describe growth in enrollment as slow and sustainable

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Students at River Mill Elementary School gather around their teacher during the first day of school. This year, River Mill saw an increase of 35 students.

Student enrollment in the Estacada School District has increased this year, in part because of new housing developments, but school officials are confident they can handle the capacity while maintaining the district's small town atmosphere.

The Estacada School District has seen an increase of approximately 70 students, which brings the total enrollment to 1,734 for the 2018-19 school year. This figure does not include the 1,200 students at Summit Learning Charter.

River Mill Elementary School saw the most growth this year, with an increase of 35 students in the school's younger grades. The district is in the process of hiring an additional second grade teacher for the school.

"We are pretty dedicated to that 25-to-1 (teacher-to-student) ratio," said Estacada School District Communications Coordinator Maggie Kelly. "We're not going to let anything take that off of our track, and when we see more kids coming in, its pretty sustainable to pay for a new teacher."

For each student, the Estacada School District receives $6,777 in funding from the state annually.

"We'll always hire staff as needed to keep the ratios appropriate," Kelly added, also noting that the school buildings have the capacity for additional students. "River Mill has four additional classrooms that we could use if we needed to. Each of our buildings have additional classroom space if we need it."

Part of the reason for the additional space is because enrollment in the school district was higher during the days of the Park Lumber Mill, which closed in 2007.

"This was a logging town, a booming town, so we saw that decline in population and now we're just going back for our schools to fill their potential," Kelly said.

The fall after the mill's closure, enrollment in the Estacada School District was at 2,270 students; five years later, that number had dropped to 1,758 students.

District-wide enrollment has fluctuated over the past several years, but is expected to slowly increase.

"I would say it's been a very slow incline," Kelly said. "This year is one of our more steep inclines, but it's still very reasonable. Seventy (students) is still small and doable, but it's definitely bigger than last year and the year before."

Much of the district's growth has been at River Mill Elementary School. Since 2015, the school has gained 99 students.

The increased student population is attributed to new housing developments, particularly in the Cascadia Ridge and Campanella Estates subdivisions. City officials noted that they have received 61 building permits for housing this year, the majority of which were centered in those areas.

To forecast enrollment, the school district works with population studies from Portland State University and watches local building activity.

"We knew we were going to see growth at River Mill. We always schedule some (additional) positions so when we find out what age that growth is, we have funds to move someone in until we start seeing the funds from those additional kids trickle in," Kelly said.

Though the city of Estacada is growing, neighboring Eagle Creek is not moving in the same direction, which led to the closure of Eagle Creek Elementary School several years ago.

"We had these unbalanced schools where Eagle Creek had been dropping and River Mill was really surging, so it was time to balance it back out, and we really don't anticipate that changing any time soon," Kelly said, noting that Eagle Creek Elementary is occupied by Summit Learning Charter. "We really want to keep Eagle Creek as a charter school because we think it's really thriving."

Estacada School District officials look forward to serving all students, whether they've just moved to the area or have lived in town for many years.

"It's growth and we're excited for it, but it's not a crazy burst that we don't think we can handle. It's sustainable," Kelly said. "With the size of the growth we're seeing, Estacada is still going to maintain that small town feel. We want that. We want this to be a local community school."

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