When the first school bell rang in September, Snoqualmie Valley School District found it had an unprecedented number of new students. The sudden increase, an...

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When the first school bell rang in September, Snoqualmie Valley School District found it had an unprecedented number of new students.

The sudden increase, an impact from new homes on Snoqualmie Ridge, is something the district will have to contend with in coming years. Planning for student growth is one of the biggest challenges the school district’s board members will face, said Kim Horn and Carolyn Simpson, candidates for the School Board’s District 3 position. The term is for two years, to complete a four-year term vacated in 2004 by Dave Reed.

The school district had a 7 percent increase in students this school year, much higher than the projected 1.5 percent, district officials said.

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“It’s tricky to predict growth; it’s an imperfect science,” said Horn, who was appointed to Reed’s seat about a year ago. “We need to be realistic with how to house students. So far, [the growth] hasn’t been something we haven’t been able to solve easily.”

The district went from 4,666 students in October 2004 to 4,994 this year, said Ron Ellis, director of business services for the district.

The last time the district saw growth close to that was in the 1987-88 school year, when enrollment grew by 5.2 percent, Ellis said.

Carolyn Simpson, 46

Residence: Snoqualmie

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom; inactive certified public accountant, formerly worked for Ernst & Young, an international public-accounting firm

Personal: Married; a son and daughter

Background: Snoqualmie Valley School Foundation Board member; volunteered to help students with math during classroom hours; helped with fundraising for music programs and helped with drama and sports programs; chaperone on field trips

Top endorsement: Jan and Mark Calvert, parents in the district

Campaign Web site: http://simpsonforschools.com

Kim Horn, 36

Residence: Snoqualmie Ridge

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom; former elementary-school teacher in Snoqualmie Valley School District

Personal: Married; two sons

Background: Former Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation Board member; member of Voters for Excellence during the past two bond and levy campaigns; member of Cascade View Elementary Design Team; Citizens’ Planning Committee member for the 2003 bond issue

Top endorsement: Snoqualmie Education Association

Campaign Web site: http://kimhorn.org

The district is trying to figure out if the growth is an anomaly or a sign of things to come. Last school year, the district grew by 1.6 percent.

The city of Snoqualmie is the fastest-growing city in King County, according to the state Office of Financial Management. The city grew by 289 percent from 2000-05 — from 1,631 residents to 6,345.

Both candidates say the district needs to get better demographic information about the community in order to better plan for student growth.

“We need to use census-type projections,” Simpson said. “We need to poll for demographics.”

Simpson said her former job as a certified public accountant would be of use to the board as it makes weighty decisions about finances and student growth.

Horn said the school district is already discussing working with a demographer to get better information for next year’s projections.

Horn agreed the district also will need a fiscal plan to deal with the growth; she favors a conservative approach that doesn’t overbudget for additional students.

“We need to be conservative with our budget,” Horn said. “It would not be good to plan for 7 percent growth and then have only 4 percent growth. We need to be conservative, and we need to be realistic with how we house students. So far, there hasn’t been a problem [with growth] that we couldn’t easily solve.”

Horn said her background as a former teacher is valuable to the School Board because she understands the concerns of the district’s staff and the challenges teachers face in the classroom.

Simpson said the district needs to improve communication between parents and teachers. She said the district could do more to notify parents and teachers about important issues the board is tackling.

“It’s important to have public input and public buy-in,” Simpson said. “A notice posted to the front of the door of the district is not adequate notice.”

Horn said that the district could do a better job of communicating with parents and staff, and that the board encourages the public to attend meetings and give feedback on issues.

“There is always room for improvement,” Horn said. “But the public is encouraged to attend our meetings, and press releases are sent out to newspapers.”

Simpson and Horn say they favor making sure the district’s curriculum is pushing students academically.

Simpson said some students, particularly in high school, aren’t being challenged enough.

“A lot of kids want an extra push,” she said. “Right now, only the high-achieving students in [Advanced Placement] classes are getting that. But there’s a middle group that could do more.”

Horn said teachers in the district have done a good job of knowing what students need. She said teachers work to challenge higher-achieving students while helping those who are struggling, and try to ensure all students perform up to the requirements of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

“I believe we need to keep students reaching higher, no matter where they are at,” Horn said. “I believe those challenges are embedded in the curriculum on a day-to-day basis.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com