Schools report fewer numbers

Emily Droege

Pawhuska and Barnsdall public schools face declines in student enrollment this year, but officials aren’t surprised.

Janet Neufeld, superintendent of Pawhuska’s public schools, and Barnsdall Public School Superintendent Jeff Lay attribute the drop mainly to rural economic downturn and students attending charter and private schools or being home schooled.

Lay said Barnsdall schools have around 420 students enrolled, but over the past few years, the enrollment has decreased slightly.

“Nothing surprises me about our current enrollment, or the fact that enrollment has slightly declined,” said Lay. “Rural areas struggle keeping families, since most employment is found in urban and suburban areas.”

Pawhuska has about 20 less students now compared to last year. Around 739 students are enrolled in 2017, said Neufeld.

“What we’ve noticed is that there’s increased enrollment in charter schools and several of them are going to charter schools or being home schooled,” said Neufeld.

She said the decline has been a downward trend in Oklahoma for many years, and the state’s rural populations have been hit especially hard.

“It’s hard for people to provide economically in depressed rural areas, so it’s a real concern for these smaller communities like Pawhuska,” said Neufeld. “People have to go where there’s employment and housing and earn a living wage, so this doesn’t surprise me.”

Both school officials said their respective schools aren’t facing any teacher shortages at the moment.

“We’re fully staffed and we’re very fortunate to have a very good staff. School has gone really well,” said Neufeld.

“There is not a teacher shortage in Barnsdall, as we have all teaching positions filled. However, we had three elementary and two junior high/high school positions open this year,” said Lay.”We received fewer than 10 applications for all five positions.”