HAMILTON — If you need further proof the Bitterroot is in a growth spurt, just look at the early enrollment numbers for the Hamilton School District. But there are several factors in play.
Hamilton School District leaders got a bit of surprise as students returned to class this past week seeing a big bump in enrollment numbers, the likes of which they've never seen.
"Really interesting and exciting numbers. I don't know if they ever anticipated this, but you know, Hamilton School District is up to 100 kids this year," says Hamilton Schools spokeswoman Justine Stewart.
"It's going largest number that we've seen of new students in one year, so I think that's really exciting. And it's also very telling about our district about things we're doing, right?"
The enrollment spike comes after a summer of building in the Bitterroot. And with the new construction -- and families shifting about that stands to reason. Yet Stewart says this increase isn't just generational.
"It seems to be district-wide so far, you know, because people probably people move to this area, they have kids in multiple grade levels, so it seems to be just all the schools are gaining more students."
But Stewart says it's not just pandemic-related growth. She says a lot of parents are telling the district they're enrolling students here because of the improving quality of Hamilton schools.
"So a lot of these numbers can be attributed to new families moving to the area, but also we think we're doing something right here in this community. I think our successful navigation of the pandemic proves that we did something right. You know we kept schools open all last year."
The new activity isn't just in classrooms. The new Transformational Learning program, set up to offer remote learning, is attracting students from outside the valley.
"You can be a student with Hamilton School District and still be at home," explained Stewart. "We've seen people sign up for this program that we're doing that are out of Ravalli County. So we're getting students from a lot of different areas that want to be within our district."
The 100 student number could fluctuate in the coming weeks. But for now, it looks like the recent bond issues to build new class space and facilities was perfectly timed.
"We are filling it now. Our classrooms are getting full. Which is a challenge because we still want to try to socially distance," notes Stewart. "But it's a great challenge to have because those extra students do great things for our district."