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Director's Dispatch: Enrollment Growth at ISD

In August 2015, with many grade levels at or near capacity, the ISD Board of Trustees faced a dilemma: Increase the class size target from 20 to 24 students, increase the number of classes per grade level, or start turning away prospective students. Having considered all sides of the debate, early in the 2015-2016 school year, the board decided to increase the number of classes or sections per grade level from two to three.

This decision represented an intentional choice to expand our maximum capacity from 612 students to 796. Our current enrollment of 710 is a result of this decision. We thought in 2015 that it would take six to seven years to approach our maximum capacity of 796. Instead, a variety of factors accelerated growth.

According to the ISD Articles of Association, the purpose of ISD is to offer the best possible educational program for “The children of U.S. Government employees and children of private U.S. citizens and the children of other nationalities who wish to secure a quality education.” In Dakar, ISD provides a unique educational and activities program with skilled teaching staff with extensive international school experience. For many families, if their children cannot attend ISD due to a lack of space, they have limited options for their child’s school. The administration’s goal has always been to serve the families who want high-quality education in English.

At the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the average class size was 19 students. There were two sections of every grade from Pre-K 4 through grade 12. Most grades had 36 or more students. Occasionally, if there were more than 40 students, the Board would allow the Administration to hire a third teacher to lower the class size.

At this year’s Annual Board Retreat, the board discussed enrollment focusing on three questions.

  • What students do we serve?

  • What students should we serve?

  • How do we manage admission and enrollment?

To address these questions, the Board established a goal of “examining optimal school enrollment” for ISD on our current site and to develop a master plan for our facilities to respond to any potential changes in enrollment. At the board’s request, the administration reviewed scholarly research to determine the effects of school size on student learning. In February of 2016, the Board discussed this research and what new construction and renovation to existing facilities would be needed to accommodate a larger student body.

In August 2016, at the Annual Retreat, the Board reviewed a variety of enrollment scenarios- capping the enrollment at two sections per grade, expand to three sections per grade, or expand to four sections per grade. The board made two decisions. Firstly, the board authorized the administration to hire the appropriate teachers and create the facilities necessary to accommodate three sections of students in grades one to twelve for the 2017-2018 school year. The board also decided that the current campus was not suitable for four sections per grade level, so enrollment was capped at 796.

Based on the information provided by a variety of organizations and companies in Dakar, the ISD Administration predicted enrollment would grow on average three to five percent year on year. By September of 2017, with more seats available, enrollment did indeed increase by five percent. The school was able to accept 57 students it would have had to turn away had it not increased the number of sections.

Enrollment grew by a further seven percent for the 2018-19 school year, representing 42 students, and a surprising 15% for this year.

There are many reasons for the higher than predicted growth. As Senegal continues to thrive, and several neighboring countries continue to experience difficulties, more companies are coming to Dakar, and organizations are moving more positions to Senegal. The move to a full International Baccalaureate Program has made the school more appealing to a broader range of families. The high quality of the ISD educational program and teachers have drawn families from other schools in the city.

It is important to note that the ISD Board of Trustees and administration planned intentionally for this growth in enrollment. Additional teachers were hired, and the facilities were renovated to handle a higher enrollment. The opening of the Performing Arts Center and Athletic Complex later this year will give the arts and athletic program the space to continue to develop their programs. While the speed of the enrollment growth was faster than predicted, the school will continue to provide a high quality educational and activities program for all of the ISD students.

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