Sierra Sands sees uptick in enrollment

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After decades of a mostly downward trend in enrollment, Sierra Sands Unified School District is reporting the first substantial increase in its collective student body in more than a decade.

When compared with other local trends, said Superintendent Ernie Bell, this could be an early indicator of growth in the Indian Wells Valley.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the jobs that are becoming available here,” said Bell. “We put a lot of effort into tracking what brings families here, and many of them came because of job opportunities at China Lake.

“But another interesting trend is that some families are moving here to look for jobs. I think a big part of that is our affordable cost of living, compared to other areas in California.” That trend is corroborated by a similar pattern reported by the Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors, which noted low inventory and reduced days on market for local sales.

Bell noted that the school district has declined from a student census of more than 6,500 in the mid ’90s — prior to the original Base Realignment and Closure wave that moved jobs away from China Lake.

The educational landscape has changed significantly in that time, with the closure of Groves and Vieweg campuses and the opening of Gateway within the district and the launching of the Ridgecrest Charter School outside of SSUSD.

Today, the population of Sierra Sands is at 5,017.

“If you take a look at the enrollment of some of our campuses, we are nearing capacity,” he said. Part of that he attributes to adjusted class-size mandates from the state level.

“Increasing enrollment is a positive trend for the district, but it does mean we are looking at putting together a strategic plan to accommodate whatever happens in our student population,” said Bell.

For the first time in more than a decade, Sierra Sands will be evaluating school boundaries in anticipation of a potential redistricting.

“We will be looking at just about every aspect of what we can do to become more efficient — not just in terms of housing our students, but also in ensuring that we are offering them the best possible instruction in the safest possible environment.”

With relocation of Murray Middle School on target for the next term, Bell said, the district is required to maintain the status quo of that school’s population for the first year. “After that, we will see if there are space and facilities that will allow us to implement some creative solutions.

“We are exploring the space we have available for our district offices and how that might allow for us to expand or consolidate space.

“Once we have conducted the redistricting study, we may have more insight into our best options for accommodating potential growth.”

Story First Published: 2017-02-03