Over the past few years, Palos Heights School District 128 has experienced explosive growth among incoming students. (Supplied photos)

Over the past few years, Palos Heights School District 128 has experienced explosive growth among incoming students. (Supplied photos)

Palos Heights SD 128 sees enrollment boom

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Over the past few years, Palos Heights School District 128 has experienced explosive growth among incoming students. There has been a significant increase particularly at Indian Hill Early Learning Center, 12800 S. Austin Ave. in Palos Heights.

By Kelly White

Over the past few years, Palos Heights School District 128 has experienced an explosive growth among incoming students.

There has been a significant increase particularly at Indian Hill Early Learning Center, 12800 S. Austin Ave. Chippewa Elementary School, 12425 S. Austin Ave; Navajo Elementary School, 12401 S. Oak Park Ave; and Independence Jr. High School, 6610 W Highland Dr., have all seen an enrollment boom, as well.

“It is exciting that families value the learning experience offered in District 128 and it is always beneficial to be able to accommodate enrollment from the beginning of a student’s school experience for the continuity of instruction and to maximize learning opportunities,” District Supt. Dr. Merryl Brownlow said.

Based on enrollment trends, it appears that the growth is related to families with younger children moving into the district.

The district was at full capacity in preschool for the 2023-2024 School Year with an enrollment of 90 students and a waiting list of 16.

For 2024-2025, district officials anticipate once again filling the preschool to its capacity of 120 students. There are already 107 confirmed registrations, with an anticipated waiting list beyond the 120, given it is the beginning of May and there are still have two more preschool screening dates scheduled.

“This does present some financial challenges, as the district does not receive additional state funding with the increase in enrollment; however, the benefit of being able to service our school community outweighs the financial stress that will have to be managed,” Brownlow said.

For the upcoming academic 2024-2025 academic year, the district has decided to add two additional preschool sections due to the high number of registrations, currently 105 registered students. With the two new sections, there are a total of 120 spots, with some of those last 15 having to be held open for special education early intervention child find students.

In order to accommodate the growing number of preschool students, the district is going to be converting its current boardroom this summer, along with some of its district office space to an additional preschool space this summer, in addition to the already existing preschool space.

This newly renovated learning space will be connected to Indian Hill Early Learning Center’s current preschool playroom through a hallway to allow for continued collaboration and an equal learning experience for all students.

This will bring the total number of preschool classes to a total of eight half-day sessions.

Going forward, the district board meetings will be held in the four school buildings.

“Over the last few years, we have seen huge growth,” Brownlow said. “We anticipate exceeding 800 students next year for the first time in the district’s history.”

The last time the district experienced this kind of growth was when the new Westgate housing development was completed in the 2010-2011 school year.

The district has grown by almost 150 students post-Covid. At a cost of approximately $15,000 per student that is an added expenditure of over $2 million annually.

“It is a testament to the district and the learning experience our staff provides to see such growth,” Brownlow said. “It’s the kind of fiscal challenge we welcome, given what it says about our programs and what we offer to our community.

“The enrollment growth over the last four years has led to notable increases in staffing to maintain the class sizes and programming we are known to provide for its students.

“We are fortunate to have a child-centered Board of Education that is willing to make challenging fiscal decisions to accommodate the needs of our community,” Brownlow said. “They are true to our slogan, ‘Where Children Are First’.”

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