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Because of growing student numbers, River Mill Elementary School will use two portable buildings next year.

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - The Estacada School District has seen an increase in student enrollment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though many school districts across the state are seeing decreased student enrollment, the Estacada School District is experiencing the opposite trend.

Last year, the district had a total of 1,720 students. During the 2020-21 school year, this figure has grown to 1,809 students.

Estacada School District Communications Director Maggie Kelly attributed the growth to increased population in the city of Estacada, as well as parents seeking out the district's educational offerings during the pandemic. Along with offering a comprehensive distance learning program, the district opened its doors for hybrid learning in February and March of 2021.

In late April, middle and high school students who opted to were able to begin attending four days of classes in-person. Around 15% of secondary students have chosen to continue with distance learning.

"We are the only district in the Portland Metro area to go up (in enrollment) during the pandemic instead of decline," Kelly said. "We had a really proactive response to COVID-19, and excellent customer service. We really kept a close pulse on what families and students needed from us and were innovative in serving them — everything from delivering Chromebooks to students' doors to increased safety measures that got our students back in the classroom."

According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, neighboring school districts like Portland Public, Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds, Oregon Trail, Canby, Colton, Gladstone, Lake Oswego, Molalla River, Oregon City and West Linn-Wilsonville all saw a dip in enrollment between 2019-20 and 2020-21. PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Portable buildings will be used at River Mill Elementary School next year to accomodate a growing stuent population.

For the state of Oregon, a total of 560,917 were enrolled for the 2020-21 year, compared to 582,661 during the previous school year.

"We're willing to collaborate and dismantle some of those barriers, and I think we've been able to provide a service that is unlike anything other districts have been able to offer," Kelly said.

The Estacada School District has also seen an increase in enrollment because of the community's growing population. In its 2020 estimate, Portland State University's Population Research Center found Estacada to have 4,035 residents, an increase by 310 people from the previous year.

In the schools, this growth is mainly at the kindergarten through third grade levels and is centered at River Mill Elementary School. Next fall, River Mill will have two portable buildings and additional teachers to accommodate its growing number of students.

"We did put additional classroom space on the bond that we put on the community's radar in November. Unfortunately, that didn't go through, so portables are the next step," Kelly said, noting that it was too early to predict how many additional educators would be hired.

"We're factoring it into our budget, and we're going to hire as much staff that we need to support additional student increases."

In 2014, the Portland State University's Population Research Center completed an enrollment forecast for the Estacada School District. For the 2022-23 year, the number of students was expected to be 1,725 students — 84 fewer than are currently enrolled.

"We're definitely growing at a quicker-than-anticipated rate, and I think part of that can be attributed to the district positioning itself as a district that families want to be in and are proud to have their students attend," Kelly said.

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