By Jeff Fox

A milestone number for the Independence School District suggests high numbers for years to come.

Enrollment in the district – three high schools, four middle schools, 18 elementaries and an alternative school – has topped 14,000 for the first time. The number is always in flux, but last week the district officially pegged it at 14,137. Two of this year’s classes – kindergartners and second graders – exceed 1,200 pupils, also a first.

“What we’re finding now it it’s not just the west. It’s across the district,” said Superintendent Dale Herl.

Five years ago, the district took in several schools Kansas City public schools in western Independence and Sugar Creek. Not only are those schools now full, the district opened a new elementary – Abraham Mallinson – in Sugar Creek this fall. Last year it opened Little Blue Elementary on the east side of the city.

Lots of school districts in rapidly growing communities see sharp increases, but a demographer working with the district told officials that growth of this type is almost unprecedented.

“We’re growing without seeing rooftops going up,” Herl said.

There has been an uptick in homeownership in western Independence and an improvement in turnover, that is, the number of students coming into and leaving the district, he said.

Herl has recently floated the idea of adding another elementary school in western Independence – finding a big enough place to build Abraham Mallinson turned out to be challenge – but for now, he said, officials continue to monitor trends and try to project what space needs will be for the next several years.

“That’s always a great question,” he said. “I don’t know that we have an answer.”