The numbers are in, the students tallied, and Teton County School District No. 1 has grown … slightly.
The district showed a modest growth of 22 students, from 2,846 at the end of the past school year to 2,868 this year. The increase is less than half of last year’s bump of 49 students, but Information Coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said that single data point doesn’t mean much.
“We continue to serve more kids,” she said. “Our expectation is that we are not going to see dramatic drops.”
Trends that stand out in the official enrollment numbers tabulated Oct. 1 show the movement of a “bubble” to the secondary schools and populations shaking out between elementary schools with the 2018 opening of Munger Mountain Elementary School.
When Munger opened at the beginning of the past school year, Jackson and Colter saw precipitous drops in student populations. At the end of the 2017-18 year, Jackson Elementary had 559 students, compared with 251 at the start of the 2018-19 year and 263 this year.
During the same period, Colter’s student population went from 574 to 353 and now 345. The district envisioned the drop and leveling out when it built the new school, because Jackson and Colter had been bursting at the seams.
“Both have been able to discontinue use of the modular buildings,” Reynolds said. “We were well over capacity in both of those schools.”
The drop doesn’t mean the schools are ready for a huge influx of kids. Jackson elementary now has several open classrooms, meaning it does have some space to absorb future population growth, but Colter, which has a higher population than Jackson, is basically where it should be, Reynolds said, rather than chockfull of students as it was a couple of years ago.
Since Munger’s opening, a second trend has emerged as well. The dual immersion program at Munger has pulled many Latino students from the other schools because the program is evenly split between Spanish- and English-speaking students. With 31% of the total student body identifying as Latino, according to Reynolds, the demographic split has skewed whiter at the other schools.
Colter had 29% of its student body identifying as Latino in 2017-18, a number that decreased to 18.5% last school year and 20% this year. Jackson elementary was almost split evenly before Munger opened, with 45.7% of students identifying as Latino. The school has seen that figure decrease to 35.5% last year and 32.7% this year.
In looking to the future, the district hopes much of its growth can be at Jackson elementary. However, it is at the whim of Teton County birth rates and where people decide to move. Reynolds pointed to the Hidden Hollow development in East Jackson as one potential source of growth at Jackson elementary. But it all depends on where parents of school-age children choose to move, and so growth could be faster in the neighborhoods around Colter.
To see the effect birth rates can have on school populations, one can simply look at the difference between the classes at Jackson Hole High School and those coming behind them. Reynolds said a “bubble” in the birth rate between five and 10 years ago created a drastic boost in student populations.
The high school has seen growth of 71 students over the past two school years, and it has a total population of 739. The four classes behind those at the high school — kids currently in fifth through eighth grades — now have 960 students. District Superintendent Gillian Chapman told the News&Guide last year that the district retains 97% to 110% of each class, meaning nearly all the 960 students in fifth grade or at Jackson Hole Middle School could end up at the high school in four years.
“That’s why we’ve been looking at capacity and capacity remedies at the secondary level,” Reynolds said.
Even after that bubble passes through, capacity improvements, like eliminating pinch points in the hallways at the middle school or building a sixth grade “pod” of classrooms, will continue to be necessary.
“It’s not like after the bubble moves through,” Reynolds said, “it’s going to even out and be back where we were five, 10 years ago.”