As she read the picture book "Too Many Pumpkins" to her class Thursday, teacher Tia McLean didn't think about having too many kindergartners — even though with 25 students, her class is large.
"I think it means that hopefully — potentially — this decline in enrollment is over and we'll see our student population going up over the years," the Helman Elementary School teacher said.
Enrollment in Ashland public kindergarten classes rose 47 percent this year to 172 students, from 117 last year, the most recent district data shows.
The news delighted district administrators who had seen enrollment drop for the past 11 years and had planned on projections showing the trend would continue.
As of last month, the district had 83 more students enrolled than last year — and 114 more than analysts had predicted.
But kindergarten enrollment grew the most, a good sign, administrators say, because each class of students tends to increase slightly through the years, meaning that by the time this kindergarten class is in middle school, it may be larger than it is now.
"If you look at each grade, as they moved up in the grade, they grow somewhat and so that's positive as well," Di Chiro said.
Last year the district had the smallest kindergarten class in at least a decade, Di Chiro said.
"That appears to have been a one-year anomaly for us," she said.
But the ranks of elementary school students had been thinning for 11 years. A sharp decline in enrollment forced the district to close Briscoe Elementary School in 2003 and Lincoln Elementary School in 2005.
"That was still the right decision," Di Chiro said. "We're up, but we're not anywhere near where we were even when we closed those schools."
In fact, there are more kindergarteners enrolled this year than there have been since 2002, and the total elementary school population is about the same as it was in the fall of 2003 and higher than in the fall of 2005. However, between 2000 and 2003, elementary school enrollment plummeted by about 200 students and has yet to recover.
Higher enrollment means more money for the district, which receives roughly $6,000 per student each year.
"We lose 100 kids that's about $600,000," Di Chiro said. "It just helps us when we have more children."
Last spring, as the district grappled with declining state funds for education due to the recession, administrators decided to cut Ashland's extended-day kindergarten program.
McLean hopes the enrollment increase will enable the district to bring back the program next year, she said.
"The amount of time the students get to be in school makes a difference," she said.
Meanwhile, McLean and other kindergarten teachers are "doing the best we can," with the larger classes, she said.
McLean's students — who have only been in school for a month — don't seem to mind having more classmates.
"It's still fun," said Emmelline Clark, 5.
"It's fun because we can make more friends," added Chloe Holzshu, 6.
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.