Enrollment surge fuels expansion at Cherry School


Casey Aro, of the famed Cherry/Zim ultra Finnish musical family, entertains Cherry ECFE kids. cherryschool.net

Enrollment at the Cherry School on the Mesabi Iron Range, my alma mater, has increased by 45 percent since a controversial reorganization plan by the St. Louis County school district. Enrollment this year checked in at 453, up from 312 in the 2009-2010 school year.

The Cherry School is small, granted, but this is a big deal as most Range schools have shown steady enrollment declines for decades. Of course, part of the enrollment comes from the closure of the Cotton school, 20 miles to the south, but many of those students also enrolled in the new South Ridge school or other districts. I’m also hearing of a fair amount of open enrollment into the Cherry School, as its central location makes it a convenient option for several neighboring district residents.

“Five years ago, the school board questioned whether our district could survive in the future because of declining enrollment,” said Board Chair Bob Larson in a district press release. “Today, the result of our facilities plan and more classroom choices is that enrollment is exceeding projections, and our new challenge is to provide adequate facilities for every family that is choosing St. Louis County Schools.”

Last night the St. Louis County School Board approved an expansion to Cherry School, including eight new classrooms, which will come with a $3 million price tag, about $0.50 per month in average household property taxes.

“Higher student demand from open enrollment will be a financial plus for the school district, saving local taxpayers money in the long run,” said District Superintendent Teresa Knife Chief in the district press release. “Having more students requires hiring more teachers and opening more classrooms, but each student also brings a significant amount of state education aid once enrolled, reducing pressure on local property taxes.”

I visited Cherry last spring to speak to students and was impressed with the new facilities and technology integration, though a bit wistful for the old country school built by Finnish immigrants that I remember from 15 years ago. I was going over the numbers in my head, and it seems by my napkin math that enrollment is now higher than when I was a student. I graduated with 38 in 1998, but the younger classes were dramatically smaller. Through the early 2000s, Cherry was graduating classes in the 20s. Now, using my Cherry School division abilities, I infer that classes are up over 40.

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