We have had another wonderful start to the school year. This year, we welcomed just under 19,000 students into our classrooms. Over the first few weeks of school, I have enjoyed talking to students about the excitement they have for their new teachers and classes. Kindergarten students are deciding what is the most fun they can have and how to navigate the lunch line. For our seniors, it is a particularly exciting time as they make plans for their future career path which could include entering directly into the workforce, enlisting in the military, or enrolling in a two-year licensing or trade program or four-year university. For both ends of the spectrum, parents are planning for the changes each school year brings to their family.

With the continued housing growth in our district, we have undertaken a process to update our 10-year facilities plan. A committee of staff members and community members has begun the task of analyzing our growth projections, our need for increased classroom space and our future facility improvement needs. Planning for the next 10-20 years is an exciting and complex undertaking. We need to consider how to best educate our students by providing the appropriate classroom space in the areas of the district where the growth will be concentrated while ensuring we maintain and improve the sites where growth will not be as steady. Ultimately, we need to ensure the space we plan for is properly sized and located to serve our community for decades to come.

To begin the process, we contracted with a demographic firm to update our 10-year student growth projections. The firm works throughout the nation completing growth plans for school districts. The projections indicate we may see approximately 3,000 new students enrolling in our school district in the next decade. The projections are made on the approved housing developments our cities have incorporated into their growth plans. We do not use any anticipated future growth or housing developments that may be in the planning process.

We completed a growth study using a different firm in 2012. The concentration of housing starts and students have changed some, but the overall growth numbers were similar. It is important to understand the growth numbers are an estimate but the analysis of growth trends in new and resale housing has a long and statistically accurate history. Our past growth studies historically have proven to be accurate as well.

An internal needs study was completed by speaking with administrators and staff members in each of our schools to identify what their current and future needs are in their schools. A comprehensive analysis of current space was conducted through touring each school to identify current uses of all educational, storage, office and planning space in the schools.

The task now becomes analyzing the growth numbers and school needs to start to develop potential solutions and plans for our future growth. The Long Range Facilities Task Force will continue to meet over the course of the next year to narrow the scope of the work that needs to be done and put forward a recommendation for the community and board to consider. We will also look for ways to engage and solicit feedback from our larger community before any decision is voted on by the School Board. We hope that after the process is complete, the needs of our school district will be clearly identified and the community will feel like it was a fair and transparent process.

Keith Jacobus is the South Washington County Schools superintendent.