Birth spikes causing enrollment hikes?


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Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

This chart shows births by Hill County residents in the last 17 years. Most children entering kindergarten this fall were born in 2006.

Earlier this week parents of Highland Park Early Primary School students, including this year's unexpectedly gigantic kindergarten class, had an opportunity to get an understanding of the building and what their children have been up to for the past month, though the district still has almost no such understanding of why the kindergarten class is so large, and why now.

At Tuesday night's Highland Park open house, Superintendent Andy Carlson was greeting families and keeping watch over the sign-in/cookie table. He said he had no real explanation for why the school was so full, and was not alone.

At a recent statewide superintendent's conference, Carlson explained, the administrators were asked if they had seen unexpectedly large numbers entering their districts recently.

"There were a lot of hands up, " Carlson said.

Havre district officials have said that they have not seen enrollment like this as far back as they have those sorts of number, to 1990.

Since the kindergarten enrollment numbers were announced, at 175 children when the year started but eventually reaching 186, many have wondered what is behind this. Are people moving to the Havre area? Are there just more children being born?

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services tracks birth statistics and the figures do show some increase.

One collection being tracked is the birth rate, number of children born per thousand people per year, over five-year periods back to 1978, broken up by county.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

This chart shows the five-year birth rate per thousand in Hill County, from 1978 to 2008. The most recent five-year period is the highest Hill County birth rate since the late 1980s.

In Hill County, the birth rate was more than 20 in the early 1980s. It then plummeted to just more than 15 in the period from 1994 to 1998.

A small spike around the turn of the century brought the number up to 16.3 from 1998 to 2002, before falling back into the 15s after 2003.

Since then however, the numbers have been rising again.

In the latest figures, from 2004 to 2008, the number has risen sharply to 17.3, the highest rate Hill County has seen since the period from 1987 to 1991.

DPHHS tracks actual birth figures by year and county, though those only go back to 1994 and can't take into account the shifting of populations inside the county.

Though less dramatic than the birth rate figures, the number of births seem to follow the same patterns.

The slowest year for births since 1994 was in 2003, when only 230 children were born to Hill County residents. The second lowest was 1995, with 260. Both of those years are at the bottom of the troughs of birth rate changes.

The highest number of births in that list is 2008, the latest year available, when 323 children were born to Hill County parents.

The second highest was 302 in 1999, though that number is just above the 299 children born in 2006, a 43-birth jump from the year before.

Those 2006 children would now be 5 years old, and are the likely current occupants of Havre's crowded kindergarten classrooms, including that of Havre's newest kindergarten teacher Ristina Wilting.

At the open house on Tuesday, Wilting said she was wondering about the size of the next class, and whether the school would need her in kindergarten or a new first-grade teacher for this year's large class.

If the rising rates and birth numbers are associated with incoming kindergartners, then, with 323 3-year-olds growing up quickly, there is reason for school administration to keep an eye on the situation.


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