Countywide Student Population Highest in at Least 10 Years

Elementary classrooms filling up as number of younger students keeps rising

By Dillon Tabish

The overall student enrollment in Flathead County is the highest in at least 10 years, driven by persistent growth at the younger elementary school level, according to the latest countywide data.

There were 15,463 students enrolled in public and private elementary and high school districts in Flathead County as of Oct. 6, according to the 2014 Flathead County Superintendent of Schools report, released last week.

There were 323 more students in the county than 10 years ago, and 818 more than four years ago.

The growth is most noticeable in public elementary classrooms, where there were 646 more students than in 2004. The report reflects a rising tide of younger students, as the two largest grades were kindergarten and first grade.

“We have the best of all educational worlds here in the Flathead, when it comes to school choices in one county,” Marcia Sheffels, superintendent of the county’s schools, said. “We have 23 independent school districts and parents have wonderful choices. They can place their children in as small a school as they want or as large a school.”

Sheffels noted that Kalispell continues to see growth in its classrooms, likely due to more young families living in the city.

Kalispell’s public schools have seen the most overall gains in the county. The elementary district had 2,997 students, 17 fewer than a year ago but still 479 students above the 2004 total. The high school district had 2,806 students, 25 more than last year and 312 more than 10 years ago. It was the only high school district in the county that saw gains over the last decade.

Just outside of Kalispell’s district, West Valley’s elementary school grew to 577 students, 31 more than a year ago and 208 more than 10 years ago.

“I would look for continued growth in Kalispell and West Valley,” Sheffels said.

Bigfork’s elementary district had 556 students, 18 more than a year ago and 64 more than in 2004. The high school had 296 students, 10 more than a year ago but 79 fewer than in 2004.

Enrollment in Bigfork has now grown for five straight years after seeing a consistent drop a decade ago.

Both Whitefish and Columbia Falls remain well below the 10-year average for students.

Columbia Falls’ elementary district reported 1,400 students, two students fewer than a year ago and 196 fewer than 10 years ago. The high school had 688 students, three fewer than a year ago and 174 fewer than 10 years ago.

Whitefish’s elementary district had 1,095 students, 30 more than a year ago but 102 fewer than 10 years ago. The high school had 497 students, the same as last year but 228 fewer than 10 years ago.

There were 1,338 students enrolled in private elementary schools, which include home schools. That is 25 more than last year but 12 fewer than 10 years ago. There were a total of 339 students in private high schools and home schools in the county, 17 fewer than last year and 33 fewer than in 2004.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.