FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Two weeks into the 2023-24 school year, Florence 1 Schools has a record 16,300 students enrolled, the district said.

The record-breaking enrollment represents a big turnaround after the district said numbers declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the current enrollment is even higher than before the pandemic.

Superintendent Richard O’Malley said the numbers are more proof that the district is providing a high-quality education for its students.

“Our community is seeing all of the amazing things that we are offering students, from the arts, to athletics, and work-based learning opportunities,” O’Malley said. “We have also made huge investments in academic opportunities, increased security and facility enhancements. Innovation is taking place in classrooms across the district in ways that we could never have imagined just a few years ago and our students are reaping the benefits.”

According to the district, Delmae Elementary School is the largest elementary school with 1,017 students. Southside is the largest middle school with 1,142 students and West Florence is the largest high school with 1,915 students. In addition, the freshman class at West Florence is the largest in school history with more than 600 students.

“West Florence is very proud of our recent increased enrollment,” Principal Matt Dowdell said. “Our staff has worked extremely hard to improve our academic and community focus. The increased enrollment is proof that our community believes in our school and is proud to have their children as part of it. Each of our students have a tremendous opportunity to grow their character, leadership skills, and problem solving ability while earning an education that will help them prosper in life. ”

While the state of South Carolina is pushing for charter schools and other reforms of education, O’Malley said Florence 1 is seeing a huge return to the public school system.

“What these numbers are showing is that parents are no longer discounting the public schools in Florence,” O’Malley said. “Parents who have chosen private education for many years are now enrolling their students in our public schools because the private schools can’t compete with what we are able to offer.”

The recent reconfiguration of the district’s Montessori program has allowed for increased enrollment at Wallace-Gregg, Lester and Timrod, the district said. Last school year, those three schools had fewer than 300 students each. Now, there are 346 students at Wallace-Gregg, 395 students at Lester and 426 students at Timrod.

Brockington Elementary remains Florence 1’s smallest school at 322 students, but enrollment there is up from 252 students a year ago.

Statistics provided by the district also show that the district’s racial demographics are basically the same as last year, with 55% African American, 30% white, 8% two or more races, 6% Hispanic, 2% Asian and 2% other.

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Dennis Bright is a digital producer at News13. Dennis is a West Virginia native and graduate of Marshall University. He has won copyediting and journalism awards in West Virginia and Ohio. Follow Dennis on Twitter and read more of his work here.