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School growth leads to expansion talks at Plankinton

PLANKINTON -- When Plankinton School District Superintendent Jim Jones began to see more school-age children in his town last summer, he didn't wait for them to come to him -- he went right to their front doors.

By going door-to-door last July, Jones was able introduce himself to the families of future students in his school district, and find out exactly how many of them were there for the first time.

This hands-on approach seemed necessary to Jones, because unlike many other rural school districts in South Dakota, Plankinton is growing. The higher enrollment numbers have school officials considering options such as converting more of their eight-year-old facility to classroom space or even adding on to the school.

The 257 students enrolled at Plankinton School for the 2011-2012 school year is an increase of 38 students from the previous year. This continues an upward trend from the year before, when enrollment increased by eight students.

Jones attributed this year's hefty increase to the school's exceptionally large kindergarten class of 33 students, and new housing and employment opportunities cropping up in Plankinton.

Jones said people coming from areas with high unemployment are finding new opportunities in and around Plankinton. Those employment opportunities are at businesses such as Aurora Plains Academy, a juvenile treatment facility on the site of the former State Training School, which was closed for long periods during the past decade; and Ethos Healthcare Management, which does back-office work for the medical industry.

"Everything is sitting pretty good in Plankinton," Jones said. "It's a wonderful place to live."

Having a place like Mitchell close by to provide more employment opportunities has been an asset as well, Jones said.

To accommodate the higher number of students, Plankinton School hired two new teachers, one to split the large kindergarten class and another to split fifth grade math and language arts classes.

Seven classrooms had to be shuffled around to accommodate the different class sizes before the year began, Jones said, but the school hasn't had any major problems dealing with the larger student body.

If enrollment continues to increase at its current pace, Plankinton School may need to convert existing space or even build new classrooms for its students.

The possibility of converting the school's wellness center into space for additional classrooms has already been considered.

According to Jones, a serious discussion about converting the wellness center could take place in the near future. Or, expansion plans may be put into motion.

Last month, Jones presented a plan to the school board that would add two additional classrooms to the elementary wing and another two classrooms to the high school wing.

These plans are looking two to three years down the road, Jones said, but if numbers continue to increase, that's when the school will have to consider moving forward.

In 2003, three years after a propane explosion and fire that took two lives and destroyed the school, there were 184 students enrolled at Plankinton's new school building.

With enrollment still climbing, Jones said he is very satisfied with the continued growth of Plankinton School.

"It's good to see kids from other areas come in and fit in at your school district," Jones said.