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It's pretty typical for us to drop way off in June of a school year and then get ready to receive 150, 200, 250 in September.

School district near Fort Drum sees rapid expansion

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The Indian River Central School District in Jefferson County is growing, fast. As the school year began this fall, the district received 90 new students in nine school days. Nearly 70 percent of the district's students come from military families, so numbers fluctuate with deployments and as housing is built on Fort Drum and in surrounding areas. Reporter Joanna Richards spoke with Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Dobmeier about population trends at Indian River, and how the district is absorbing so many new students after the school year has begun.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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Flexibility and change are keynotes at the Indian River Central School District. Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Dobmeier says the overall trend for about six years has been rapid growth.

As the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, fewer Fort Drum soldiers are deployed, and when they are overseas, the tours are shorter. The Army is now moving away from one year deployments, towards nine-month periods. These trends make moving to the area a more attractive option for soldiers' families.

The district ended last school year with 4,050 students, but that number has already increased by 381 this school year.

"It's pretty typical for us to drop way off in June of a school year and then get ready to receive 150, 200, 250 – whatever the number winds up being – in September," Dobmeier said. "But this was magnified, you know, by the fact that we're growing."

To cope with the increases, the district added a Third grade class before the start of the school year at Calcium Primary School. Since the school year started though, the district is working on adding a First Grade class, too, to relieve some of the high numbers there. Evans Mills Primary School is getting another kindergarten section, the middle school in Philadelphia is getting a new Sixth grade class, and the intermediate school, also in Philadelphia, is getting an additional Fourth grade class. All those changes are in progress now, Dobmeier says.

She says if the student population continues to grow, the Indian River district will face some big decisions since some of its school buildings are close to hitting their maximum capacities.

"So we're gonna be, ah, scrutinizing and monitoring what's happening, not only with the on-post housing that's gonna be constructed, but also the off-post housing, to see what our decisions are gonna have to be," said Dobmeier.

The Indian River school district has welcomed hundreds more students since Fort Drum's expansion began earlier in the decade. Special Department of Defense funding has helped the district to accommodate many more students.

The Army Times reported that a significant cut in the number of soldiers may be in the works as the current wars wind down. It's not clear yet how that may affect Fort Drum, but this growth as more soldiers return home may represent the last big population bump the district sees.

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