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Schools serving more than 38,400 students
Enrollment 'a moving target' for administrators
School WEB
Katie Andrews arrives for the first day of kindergarten Thursday at Kelly Mill Elementary. - photo by Jennifer Sami

For 28 years, Lynne Castleberry has seen the first day of school as an employee of the Forsyth County school system.

And every year she greets the smiling faces and watches as students share hugs, tears and excitement.

The enjoyment has not grown stale, said the Whitlow Elementary School principal.

“I absolutely love coming back to school,” she said. “The kids coming in is what you work for. It’s the wow factor and they’re excited to be here and it’s really a great experience for everyone.”

It’s an experience more and more students get to share, as the school district has continued to grow, said Sue Derison, director of information systems and support.

Derison highlighted the enrollment numbers for the new year Thursday during a meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Education.

“It’s a moving target, always,” Derison said of enrollment, which continued to grow Friday.

“The percentage growth is stable. It’s not going down like it had in the last several years and we’re pretty much holding our own at this point.”

Nearly 1,000 new students have registered since May, pushing the student population to more than 38,400.

One of the most noticeable changes over the years, Derison said, has been “the multicultural population that we serve.”

And while enrollment is growing, the system’s staff levels are falling, said Candy Norton, director of human resources.

Even with the addition of Kelly Mill Elementary, which debuted Thursday, the system has three fewer employees on the payroll than last year, Norton said. And it has just four more than the 2008-09 school year.  

“We had to relocate shifts and teachers, but we’ve managed to do that before open house,” Norton said. “We are not over-hired. We may need to add a few positions, depending on how the numbers come out.”

Enrollment is constantly changing, Derison said, but the official numbers need to be submitted to the state in October.

“It will fluctuate up and down between now and probably mid-September, then a little by little it will grow until the end of the year,” she said. “We have kind of surges after Labor Day, in January, sometimes after spring break. But we have students enrolling even the last week of school.”

Back at Whitlow, Castleberry said she’s witnessed more than just growth in students and schools over the years. There also have been changes in technology and infrastructure.

Access to research and information was once limited to encyclopedias and history books. But as kindergarteners walk through the doors at Whitlow and any other county school, they can tap into technology that grows with new information. It’s made for a smarter student before they start school.

“Every year it is amazing to me how at one time, the first day of school you would walk in and everything was new and the kids were apprehensive about coming to school,” she said.

“Now kids walk into school, and even our kindergarteners  they know where to go, which hallway they are going to. Really, the growth and maturity of these students amazes me.”