Columbia County school officials expect the student population to increase by more than 2,300 during the next five years.
Not including preschool and special-needs children, 19,744 pupils are enrolled in Columbia County public schools, according to statistics presented to school board members at their Tuesday meeting.
The projections given at the meeting show the county's total enrollment increasing each year for the next five years for a total population of 22,090 by the 2009-10 school year.
Each year's kindergarten projections are based on the county birth rate from five years earlier and a 17 percent growth rate from families moving into the county, school Superintendent Tommy Price said.
"Over time, I don't think you can have a better way of forecasting those numbers," he said.
Also at the meeting, Price presented parameters to the board for a task force that could determine what kind of high school will be built next in Columbia County.
The members tentatively approved Price's proposal for a group of about 40 members made up of school board members, teachers, principals, a Columbia County commissioner, businessmen and others.
"When you're looking at something like this, I think you want a pretty broad group," Price said.
The task force will be asked to examine pupils' needs in the county and make suggestions to the board on whether the county should build a traditional high school or an alternative school, such as a magnet school.
The group would meet from January to March 2005 and offer recommendations in April, Price said.
After the construction of an elementary school, which will open next year, and a middle school, a new high school is next on the list.
On Tuesday, officials also presented board members with ideas to keep potential dropouts in school.
Suggestions from high school counselors included conducting exit interviews, reviewing career portfolios, talking with parents, following up on academic performances, and establishing a procedure to allow students to change courses within a semester if the course is too difficult.
"Sometimes, they're just in over their heads, even the (Advanced Placement) kids," Price said.
Board member Lee Muns called the suggestions "no-brainers" and said more should be done.
Price said counselors and educators try to identify early warning signs that a student might quit school, but all the help the school system can offer might not be enough.
"We've got an obligation to our students, but there's this thing called individual responsibility we're losing sight of," he said.
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