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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 20 2012

With robust enrollment, Fargo’s Kennedy Elementary packed again

FARGO – Fargo’s Kennedy Elementary is full again.

The school will have about 710 students in its 34 rooms when it opens Thursday, thanks to robust kindergarten enrollment that will need seven classrooms to cover, district officials said Monday.

Thanks to an eight-room addition completed last fall, Kennedy will still be able to hold its fifth-graders, who are being brought back to the school after being housed at Discovery Middle School for several years.

But the move riles some parents who say the fifth-graders should stay at Discovery to give younger students breathing space.

“Every time they’ve looked at Kennedy, they’ve underestimated enrollment. They’re always chasing their tail,” said Jeff Olson, who will have a third-grader at Kennedy.

Olson argued in May against moving the fifth-graders back to Kennedy, and was told that if late-summer projections showed the school was full, or a grade needed seven sections, the move would be reversed.

But that’s not how it worked out.

The decision to move the fifth-graders had to be finalized in early August. Then another nine kindergarteners were enrolled a week later, forcing the district to create another kindergarten section, officials said.

Olson said the school may actually end up with 720 to 730 students this fall, and wonders if the decision to bring the fifth-graders back is a manufactured crisis.

“I think they’re creating an environment so the parents and the public get behind a new school,” Olson said. “They’re using Kennedy Elementary as a poster child to build a new school.”

Other southside schools are also growing, district officials said.

Fargo will have 120 more students at the elementary level this fall, many south of Interstate 94, school board President Jim Johnson said. That data is 10 days old, he said.

Lewis and Clark Elementary, which picked up about 55 students in a shift of its enrollment boundaries to help Kennedy, is also full, Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

Bennett Elementary is nearly full, Johnson said.

More school boundary changes might be needed, Johnson said. Or, perhaps a magnet school can be created to draw students from the south side. In time, if needed, another school could be built, but first the board will study district demographics and create a new facilities plan, he said.

The board has created an ad hoc committee headed by school board member John Strand to study the issue.

Kindergarten and first-grade classes at Kennedy will be smaller this year, district officials said. Kindergarten and first grade will have 19 to 20 students per class. Second, third and fourth grades will have 21 or 22 students. Fifth-grade classes will be 23 to 24 students.

“It’s a kind of a watch carefully situation,” Strand said. “I don’t know if I see any change with school starting now, but the school board also doesn’t want a mega elementary school. We just can’t have that.”

Olson said he’s not satisfied by what he’s heard.

“They keep saying the kids will fit,” he said. “Kids are not feet, and schools are not shoes. Just because they will fit doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583