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Overall district enrollment continues to exceed resident student population, administration focuses on resident families choosing other options

Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 — According to a report shared with the South St. Paul School Board on Oct. 28, the resident school-age population of South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS) last year was 3,154 students. However, when the district factored in resident students choosing other public school options (open enrollment out and charter schools) and students from other districts opting into SSPPS (open enrollment in), the overall number of students served in 2018-19 was 3,280. This difference of serving more students than resident enrollment has been a trend in the district for at least the last 10 years, but that gap is narrowing due to a variety of factors.

Resident students vs students served chart

In the past, the School Board’s October enrollment update was focused on overall enrollment and class size data, with a more detailed trend data report shared in January. The update provided on Oct. 29 included both the general enrollment and open enrollment analysis information. Enrollment trends over the last ten years show that while the district has served more students than reside in SSPPS, the number of school-age students living in SSPPS has declined over the last two years. In addition, the number of students open enrolling into SSPPS has remained constant, but the number of resident students choosing other educational options has increased.  

“South St. Paul has traditionally had a net gain through open enrollment, which continues today, but we are seeing that net gain shrink over time,” said Bushberger. “One positive is that as a result, our average class sizes are getting smaller, with the overall district average at 24.4 students per class.”

Bushberger concluded that there were three key takeaways from this most recent enrollment analysis — resident enrollment is decreasing, SSPPS continues to see a net gain with open enrollment, but the margin is closing, and families continue to have more educational choices and options for their children. “We are seeing a downward trend in the overall number of students served and we want to get out in front of it,” Bushberger said. “We are committed to looking deeply at the data as well as investigating the reasons families are making the choices that they are for their students.”  

SSP Enrollment summary slide

School Board members reviewed the report and inquired about next steps, asking what could be done to improve future student enrollment. Director of Communications Susan Brott shared that the district continues to focus on strategies that can help the district understand reasons for the change. “We know that there are many factors that impact student enrollment,” said Brott. “This report provides us with good data, but the numbers do not always tell us the ‘why.’’” 

Brott said that the district is analyzing the enrollment data while also reviewing qualitative data, such as the insights gathered through a 2018 parent survey, ongoing school and district engagements, and other interpersonal conversations. “Combining the quantitative data with the softer information we get from surveys, group discussions and anecdotal conversations will help us better understand what families are looking for from their schools,” she said. “This, in turn, will help us not only better market South St. Paul schools, but more importantly design a better learning experience for all our students.”   

Superintendent Dave Webb echoed Brott’s comments, noting that the insights being gathered provide district leaders with a roadmap on how to redesign SSP Schools in ways that help improve student outcomes and align with what local families are seeking. “We can always do better in preparing our students for their next step, and these key data reports are critical to helping us ensure we are achieving our district mission and vision.” 

October 2019 Enrollment Update presentation