School year underway

Leslie Silverman

School has begun for over 500 local students in the Hill City and Keystone areas.

According to district officials, enrollment in the Hill City School District has increased by over 40 students when compared to last year. Although the official “count day” won’t be completed until the last Friday in September, as of press time the district had 508 students enrolled. Last year the district had 467 students, kindergarten through 12th grade.

“There are many reasons for our growing enrollment,” said distrct superintendent Blake Gardner. “Families want to live in the Black Hills, our very good school reputation, and our common sense re-entry plan are a few reasons.”

The growth is from a combination of new residents and open enrollment students from other neighboring districts.

Gardner is “pleased to see positive growth” in the district. The district set a goal to increase enrollment to 500 students by 2025.

The district will now focus on keeping its class sizes low.

“Our new priority is to continue to maintain favorable class sizes, especially in the elementary school where students are much more dependent on their teachers,” Gardner said. “We are confident that by working with our parents and staff members that we can maintain our standard of excellence and continue to be one of the best schools in South Dakota.”

The district resumed classes for the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 19 with four learning options available for students. Most chose to return to traditional in person instructions.

“At this point we have 12 students electing to do homebound instruction, two students using Black Hills Online Learning, and the rest are on campus in a traditional setting,” Gardner said.

The district has worked hard to implement additional COVID-19 measures including increased disinfection, staggered entry to classes and common areas and social distancing protocols, just to name a few.

“I have been proud of our school community for taking the virus seriously,” Gardner said. “We have implemented many mitigation strategies and the longer we stay healthy, the longer we stay in school.”

In the event that the district needs to return to a short-term distance-learning model, Gardner is confident staff and students will be prepared.

 “We have had a wonderful first week of school,” Gardner said. “Our teachers have outlined rules and expectations; but also taught our students to log onto their computer and how to access resources that would be utilized during a closure. Our hope is that we can maintain traditional learning for the entire year, but if we were forced into a short term closure, we are so much more prepared for it now than we were in March.”

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