One of the focal points in the local community is the Waynesville R-VI School District, which has changed, grown and expanded along with the local area.
School Superintendent Judene Blackburn, said the district set a record with enrollment numbers this year.
"Our enrollment is at an all-time high," she said on Sept. 13, noting that the district had more than 6,000 students enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year. "Last year at this same time, our numbers were 5,968 [students enrolled]."
Blackburn added that the district has seen a slow and steady growth over the last few years of approximately 1 to 2 percent each year.
"Just for a comparison, four years ago, our student enrollment was just over 5,500 students," she added.
The superintendent said the latest numbers will be of interest to the school board.
"It's been interesting for us to reflect back across the decades what our enrollment has done," Blackburn said. "Fifty years ago, in the 1972-73 school year, our enrollment was right at 5,500. It dropped significantly the next decade. Ten years later (1982-83), it was just over 3,600 students. It's continued to increase every year since."
Of the students in the district, the majority can be found in the elementary schools, where more than 3,000 children were enrolled this year. The district also welcomed approximately 470 students at the new sixth grade center, 930 students at the middle school and 1,700 students to the high school.
Blackburn said the district has consistently tried to stay ahead of the continued growth, but she noted it can be challenging in a community with a large military presence.
"We've certainly paid attention to the growth pattern over the years and tried to project where we might be in five to 10 years, although that is very difficult in a community like ours," she said. Blackburn gave the example of the changes in demographics due to privatized housing options with the military.
"Due to the decrease in number of homes available in Fort Leonard Wood, people have lived off the installation," she explained.
Page 2 of 3 - That change led to an increase in student population at some schools and a decrease at others, and has influenced the closure of some buildings, as well as new construction.
"Most recently, we opened the sixth grade center," Blackburn said. "That allowed us more room for growth at Freedom Elementary."
The sixth grade center is simply a "win-win" for the school district, according to Lori Laughlin, president of the Waynesville R-VI School District.
"As a result of moving all sixth graders here, space opens up in our elementary school buildings for future growth," Laughlin said. "More importantly, this school will help ensure a successful transition of students from elementary to middle school."
The district also recently renovated East Elementary, adding even more space for growth in the district. The district is also currently constructing a Ninth Grade Center, to help enhance the experience of students transitioning from junior high to high school.
The ninth grade center is scheduled to open at the beginning of the 2013 school year. Blackburn said the school district has also purchased some land, which may eventually be the site for a new school or additional buildings.
As the student body increases at Waynesville, so do the teachers. This year, nearly 60 new teachers and staff members were welcomed to the district. Blackburn said she's proud of the job each teacher does.
"Our staff is truly fantastic," she said. "We have exceptional teachers in the district that care about the students and pay attention to what we call the three 'R's', which is developing respectful relationships, ensuring that there is rigorous instruction and that the curriculum is relevant to the students and their lives."
One of the aspects that makes Waynesville's district unusual is the high transition rate, due in large part to students whose parents are in the military. While some students start kindergarten in the district and graduate from school there, others may only spend a year or two at the schools before moving somewhere else.
"It's interesting to note that we have a high transition rate and again, our staff does a wonderful job of supporting that transition process. As a general rule of thumb, our mobility is in excess of 30 percent every year," Blackburn explained.
Page 3 of 3 - "It's important to look ahead, Blackburn added. "Today's students truly will be tomorrow's leaders, and we want them to leave our district equipped with the skills and abilities they need to be successful citizens."
While looking to the future, the district is also aware of the important role technology plays in education, and is constantly adding equipment to enhance learning for the future.
Since 2009, the district began adding Smartboards, interactive white boards in which animated presentations can be shown on. The district currently has Smartboards in 40 classrooms. The boards enhance learning for students of all ages. The high school teachers use the boards for multi-media properties. But they are especially good for younger students, since they have many applications dealing with shapes, letters and sounds.
The high school is also using iPads to expand the learning experience of the students and help prepare for their future.