Ottumwa High School, aerial file photo

OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school district saw an increase of 111 students this year.

Although this count is preliminary, and will be finalized later this month, Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said the initial count is usually a good indication of how many students the district has enrolled. She’s pleased with the results.

“I think we’ve been very intentional with our communication and positive public relations,” she said. “I think we’ve been intentional with safety messaging in addition to changes we’ve made with our facilities. Also, just communicating that Ottumwa schools is a safe environment for students.”

Students open-enrolling out of the district has been a problem for Ottumwa for the last several years. According to the Iowa Department of Education, the number of students who live in Ottumwa but attend school in other districts rose from 2015-2018. The 2018-2019 school year saw this trend reach its height, when about 480 students open-enrolled out.

“That doesn’t mean we still don’t have students open-enrolling out of the district, but it means we’re changing the trend line for the positive,” Kooiker said.

Kooiker attributes much of this success to the Pickwick Early Childhood Center, which opened in 2018 for 3- and 4-year-olds. Out of the approximately 200 4-year-old students at Pickwick in 2018, all but two went on to enroll in the district for kindergarten — a retention rate of about 99 percent.

Other areas saw improvement as well. There were 94 more ELL students at count day this year, which is an increase of about 18 percent from last year. Pickwick saw its own sizable increase: the preschool is up 49 students, a 21 percent increase, and is at capacity for the 2019-2020 school year.

Jack Langland can be reached at jlangland@ottumwacourier.com.

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