One of the characteristics of a healthy being is growth, and if that’s the case, from early childhood through college, O’Fallon’s schools are definitely following a very healthy pattern.
That health is in large part due to O’Fallon’s continued growth. The city, arguably one of the fastest-growing cities in southwestern Illinois, has seen growth fueled by the city’s location within commuting distance of St. Louis. In addition to the commuters, the area is also home to many base personnel from nearby Scott Air Force Base. This prime location has created quite a growth spurt. That growth has made O’Fallon a highly desirable community offering a clean, safe place to live, along with the amenities families with children look for—like great schools.
One example is Discovery School, a preschool which has seen its numbers blossom to 130 children ages 3-5, along with a pre-kindergarten class. Following the Preschool for All initiative enacted throughout the state, the Discovery School currently has one PFA classroom of 20 students (led by three staff members), and plans to add another class next year. The school offers a very developmentally appropriate curriculum, supplemented with a heavy emphasis on the arts, with special time to focus on art, music, literature and authors. According to co-director Grace Schooley, “Discovery School is a great place for kids to learn to love learning, and to carry that love on to their public school life.” Every classroom is led by a certified Early Childhood teacher, and the school had the honor of being named a model preschool by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2004.
Private schools in the area include St. Clare Catholic School for grades K-8, the Governor French Academy for grades PK-12, the First Baptist Academy and the nearby Goddard School in Shiloh, which specializes in early childhood development. All have felt the impact of the area’s growth. Enterprise Academy, a non-sectarian, not-for-profit private school, also has plans for future expansion to meet the growing population. The school currently offers classes in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8, but future plans include levels for grades 9-12. In addition, if growth continues as anticipated, the school hopes to construct a new learning center in the future.
As for the public schools, O’Fallon Schools have been ranked by the U.S. Department of Education as some of the best in the country. The community is served by several excellent systems, which include O’Fallon Community Consolidated School District 90, District 104 Central Schools and O’Fallon Township High School District 203. All have endured a surge of growth in recent years, with new development plans set in place to accommodate this influx of students.
O’Fallon Township High School District 203, which serves all the area’s elementary and middle schools, is one of the largest high schools in the state. Its present population of nearly 2,500 students is about 500 students more than the current building was designed for. To help combat that crunch, a new Freshman Center is being built about four miles west of the current high school location. Slated to open in fall of 2009, the Center will be built to hold 850 students. According to O’Fallon Township High School Principal Steve Dirnbeck, that capacity should allow the district room to grow. “We should hit between 3,500 and 4,000 students in the next 15 years,” he says, projecting that the new school could eventually include sophomores, or even become a second high school at some point down the road.
The planning for this big step has been intense, says Dirnbeck. “We’re not the first ever ninth grade campus, so we talk to administrators at other schools. We make a list of concerns and questions, and we tap into our professional colleagues throughout the state to help us in making our move a little easier and to make sure we do it right or even better.”
He adds, “I’m very excited about the future of O’Fallon Schools. I look forward to coming to work every day. We have an awful lot going really well here. Outstanding athletics, academics, music and drama programs, our marching band is nationally renowned. It’s a great place and we keep working to make it even better.”
The growth in O’Fallon area education goes beyond high school, and includes a number of post-high school systems that are poised to serve the needs of all.
Most comprehensive of the three is McKendree University in Lebanon, a nationally recognized “College of Distinction” recently included as one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges of 2008.” The school, established in 1828, is the oldest college in Illinois, and the oldest Methodist college in the nation. It offers bachelor’s degrees in business administration, fine arts, music education, education and nursing, with advanced degrees offered in education, professional counseling, business and nursing, serving a total of nearly 4,000 students.
Southwestern Illinois College in nearby Belleville, one of three sister campuses and 26 offsite locations, serves the combined needs of more than 25,000 students each year. SWIC strives to be a total community college, offering programs for the elderly as well as customized training to match area business and industry needs. In addition, the college offers 64 associate degree programs that prepare students either for a career or for entering a four-year college or university.
SWIC has enjoyed its continued growth, encompassing three campuses (in Granite City and Red Bud as well as in Belleville), and 26 off-campus sites, many in area high schools. To help fit the needs of its growing population, the school recently completed work on its new Liberal Arts Building, housing 16 new classrooms equipped with the latest technology, a computer lab, an expanded Barnes and Noble Bookstore, a loading dock and receiving area, 16 faculty offices, seven adjunct faculty work stations and two secretarial work stations.
Park University is also a powerful educational presence in the O’Fallon area, with a campus center on Scott Air Force Base. There, the university offers associate and bachelor of science programs through on-site or distance education, providing services not only to base personnel, but to the entire community.
According to Campus Director David W. Rogers, Park has been an important presence at Scott for 35 years. “Students don’t have to be in the military to take classes at Park University’s Scott Campus Center. Our students reflect a wide diversity of backgrounds — active duty military, members of the Guard and Reserves, veterans, military retirees, civilian employees of the government, family members and people who have no military affiliation at all have all studied at our campus center. Their common characteristic is their eagerness for learning. We are enthusiastic about reaching out into our surrounding communities even more in the future.”
Lindenwood University, a four-year liberal arts institution, offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs at its main 500-acre campus in St. Charles, Missouri. But, students don’t have to travel far from home for a Lindenwood education, as the university operates several satellite campuses throughout the region.
Further options for higher learning close to O’Fallon include Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, along with three institutions in St. Louis—St. Louis University, University of Missouri at St. Louis and Washington University.
The future is geared for growth in the O’Fallon area. Local schools, from pre-kindergarten through college and university, are ready and willing to make sure students of all ages grow to meet it, and to live prosperous, happy, lives—lives that continue to improve through education.