When doors open Friday, Livingston Parish school officials say, the number of students in classrooms will match or exceed the pre-2016 flood enrollment numbers for the first time.
The catastrophic deluge that inundated 19 schools in the district in August of 2016 left ripples that saw the district shut down for weeks and students in temporary facilities for months. Some schools are still not completely renovated or have been condemned.
Families had to leave their homes, taking with them many of the students and teachers who made up the district, and some never returned. It was a huge impact that after three years is finally seeing recuperation.
Superintendent Joe Murphy said at a school board meeting last week that between 300 and 400 students had enrolled just last week alone, bringing the total enrollment number to 25,479 students as of last Thursday.
He said he expects families to continue enrolling students into the first few weeks of the school year.
"It's really an exciting start for me this year to know that for at least this time we've moved past that and recovered from that," Murphy told the board. "It's a testament to this board, the management it took to get through that, and it's a testament to our communities and our people in bringing back Livingston Parish stronger than ever."
Louisiana Department of Education data show that in October of 2015, Livingston Parish schools had 25,994 students. By October of 2016 that number had dropped by more than 1,000 to 24,861.
The district gained about 500 students in the six months following the flood, and another 500 in the year following. The February 2019 count was 25,712 and district officials project the number could climb to above 26,000 by October 2016.
School Board President Buddy Mincey, whose district covers the most heavily-inundated Denham Springs area, said he believes the growth is a mix of displaced families coming back to the area and new development spurring residents to move to the area, replacing the families that didn't return.
"I think they're coming here because of our school system, which has been and remains the economic driver for our parish and I believe the majority of the influx is a direct relation to that," Mincey said.
Livingston Parish achieved high marks in LEAP scores this year, which determines strength in English, math and social studies, tying with Plaquemines Parish for the fifth best marks across the state. LEAP tests were given to grades 3-8 in April and May.
School districts from the capitol region dominated the state rankings, but Zachary remained on top again on LEAP standardized tests, collectiv…
School Board member David "Bo" Graham, echoed Mincey's statements, saying he believes the district enrollment would've been leaps and bounds ahead if the flood had not happened, but the district's reputation will keep it on an upward trajectory.
"We were growing anyway (before the flood) so this has set us back a few years but hopefully now we're back on track," Graham said.
Of the 19 parish school district sites that flooded, 16 had been restored to pre-flood status as of July 2018. The other three were determined by FEMA to be substantially-damaged and require a more in-depth remediation process.