Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories regarding declining enrollments in local schools and the possible causes of declines.
The school districts that send students to Pekin Community High School seem, for the most part, to be holding their own on student enrollment with fluctuations here and there, with the exception of one.
Pekin District 303 students come from Rankin District 98, North Pekin-Marquette Heights District 102, Pekin District 108, South Pekin District 137 and Spring Lake District 606. PCHS’s enrollment is down 206 students.
North Pekin-Marquette Heights enrollment numbers are down. Superintendent Byron Sondgeroth said the state’s economic status plays into that.
“I can’t help but think that we’re a reflection of that,” said Sondgeroth. “There has been an exodus from the state for whatever reason.
“I even have a son who recently graduated from college who has talked about at some point looking out of Illinois for employment. I think it doesn’t seem like the attractive place to live that it maybe once was. If you’re younger and you see the issues that (the state) has had, it seems like there’s not the attraction to stay. I think schools are typically a reflection of the greater society.”
NP/MH District 102
Sondgeroth said that the population has aged in the two communities and there are fewer families with children moving into the district. Its enrollment dropped from 692 in 2015 to 581 on the sixth-day enrollment this year, or down 111 students.
“One of the things I have heard, and I don’t want to speak negatively about our community, but I think the houses are limited in terms of size and the families that could move,” said Sondgeroth. “We’ve even had some families that are with us say that they want to stay, but they need to find a larger house. And they’re just not able to do that in our area, because we don’t have a lot of newer, larger, two-car garage, three bedroom, two-bath type situations.”
District 102 has plenty of room in its boundaries for the communities to expand, but developers are not inquiring. Sondgeroth said there are homes for sale in both communities, but “their just not getting gobbled up.”
“I do know that we’ve had at least two families that were here last year, very involved families, and they both left and moved out of state,” said Sondgeroth. “I don’t know the reasoning for doing that, but (state issues) may be true.
“I think (the Caterpillar layoffs) have been an issue. I’ve heard of a couple of families where somebody has lost a job due to layoffs.”
Rankin is located in a rural setting among the farm fields between Pekin and South Pekin.
The district is growing with two additions, one in progress now, another in 2004. The district has also renovated various areas of the school. Spring Lake District 606 seventh- and eighth-graders feed into District 98.
Rankin Superintendent Matt Gordon said the district enrollment has fluctuated over the past several years but, in the last two, increased slightly. Its enrollment is 233 this year, the same as it was in the 2013 school year.
Gordon said the district wants “to continue to be a student focused, collaborative, team oriented and innovation district with an over arching goal of continually improving the quality of education provided to our students. That helps make us attractive and appealing to new families.”
Gordon said the school board is a huge asset in keeping the district competitive. There have been multiple building additions and improvements as recently as 2004 and now in 2017.
“So our continual pursuit of growth can make us more attractive to families,” said Gordon. “We always want to maintain our family, small school atmosphere with a focus on individualized student attention. Our district is in a very strong position to successfully encounter growth in student enrollment.”
The new classroom addition, which will open next year, will house grades three through five. Gordon said the new classrooms will have relaxed seating where students and teachers can work together. The district is working toward one-on-one computer devices such as a Chromebook or laptop.
Pekin District 108 is the largest feeder district to the high school with a sixth-day enrollment for the 2017-18 school year of 3,614.
In 2015, the district’s enrollment was 3,669. Assistant Superintendent Leonard Ealey said the number has fluctuated though. At the end of the 2017 school year, the enrollment was 3,589.
“These sixth-day enrollment numbers will increase too,” said Ealey, referring to the sixth-day enrollment figure. “They seem to register later. So we had a little dip, but now we’re back up.”
Superintendent Bill Link said the district does not seem to have any real enrollment issues.
South Pekin District 137
South Pekin Superintendent Seth Mingus said the district’s enrollment is pretty steady, though the sixth-day enrollment this year is 226 and the final number last year was 247. The sixth-day enrollment is a benchmark figure. Enrollments change throughout the year.
South Pekin is a small community of approximately 1,100 people.
“We don’t attract a lot of young urban professionals, and we don’t attract the same demographics that Dunlap would attract,” said Mingus. “South Pekin has a small town feel to it, and I think the people who live here really like it.
“I think people talk in their social groups, and I think that draws people in. While we might not pull from the urban professional demographic, everybody needs to have a nice place to live, and South Pekin fills that void for a lot of people. It’s a nice place to be. It’s a nice place to raise a family. People say they like the school and they like the small school feel.”
Spring Lake District 606
The district’s enrollment has remained steady for the past six years, according to the school report card. The superintendent did not return calls for comment.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin