The commons areas at North Star High School, created as spaces students could gather for discussions or to hear speakers, are regular classrooms now.
In the lunchroom, long rectangular tables that seat 16 have joined the octagon tables scattered around the area nicknamed “the bayou.”
Two portable classrooms have been stationed on the north end of the school for some years now, to catch the overflow of students streaming into one of Lincoln’s two newest high schools.
And it’s not going to get any easier.
North Star became the second of Lincoln Public Schools’ six high schools to pass the 2,000-student enrollment mark this fall.
Southeast hit the number a couple of years ago and this year has 2,144 students; North Star has 2,049.
Across LPS, enrollment this year includes a record 1,222 new students, who come from more than 35 states.
That brings total enrollment to 39,066, including 1,571 preschool students. That compares with 37,844 last year, a 3 percent increase, with a 9 percent increase over the past five years.
Total enrollment for K-12 (minus preschool) this year is 37,495, compared with last year's 36,400.
The official enrollment numbers, which are reported to the Nebraska Department of Education, are good news for Lincoln, LPS Superintendent Steve Joel said.
“I think it’s people who are moving into the community,” he said. “Lincoln’s in a sweet spot,” and people are drawn by low unemployment, a demand for skilled jobs, affordable housing and good schools.
“We measure economic health by the number of students coming in,” he said.
Pius X High School, Lincoln’s Catholic high school, also reported a record enrollment of 1,170, the highest in its 59-year history.
At LPS, the growth pushed two middle schools past 1,000 students: Lux, which passed the 1,000-mark last year, has 1,045 students this year; Scott has 1,020.
LPS’s kindergarten class was the biggest this year, with 3,242 students, compared with last year’s 3,149 students. First-, third- and fifth-grade classes also had more than 3,000 students each.
Still, the 503 additional high school students this year was a bigger increase than elementary or middle school. There were 242 additional middle school and 350 new elementary school students.
One of LPS’s big selling points for the $153 million bond issue passed in February was the need for a new middle school to relieve overcrowding at Lux, Scott and Pound.
Proceeds from the bond issue also will help pay for a career academy, a joint venture with Southeast Community College that will offer half-day programs to high school juniors and seniors.
LPS officials hoped the career center would relieve overcrowding and delay the need for a new high school for about seven years.
Joel said he thinks that plan will still hold, because the high schools still have room.
“Two thousand (students) gets the community on the edge of their seats," he said, "but we have capacity beyond 2,000.”
Still, it’s tight at North Star.
The hallways are congested and class sizes are climbing -- some hitting 32 students, said Principal Vann Price.
It also makes scheduling harder, especially when students come in mid-year and need certain classes to graduate, she said.
“There’s only so much room and so many slots,” she said.
She said once the career center gets up and going she thinks that will give them more space.
“I think eventually it will help all of us,” she said.
Schools across the city saw growth, including Lincoln East High School, whose 1,610 enrollment is 8 percent higher than last year’s 1,490; and Lincoln High’s 1,746 students represent a 9 percent increase over last year’s 1,597 students.
Northeast was the only high school that saw a small decrease, from 1,473 students to 1,469.
Roper remained Lincoln’s largest elementary school, with 842 students, up from 828 last year.
Kloefkorn Elementary, Lincoln’s newest grade school, grew by 66 students to 447. Maxey, traditionally one of LPS’s biggest elementaries, is smaller now thanks to Kloefkorn taking on some of the burgeoning southeast Lincoln population.
In fact, Maxey’s 606 students make it smaller than Adams (760), Arnold (704), Belmont (650), Campbell (662), Cavett (715) and Kooser (748).
The enrollment count also showed:
* The number of English Language Learner students at LPS grew by 238 students to 2,396.
* The 43 percent of students on free- and reduced-price lunch -- the primary measure of poverty -- remained nearly the same as last year.
Joel said finding space for students is challenging, but better than the alternative.
“It’s a great problem to have,” he said. “I’d much rather be growing then stagnant and declining.”