Little River USD 444 ranks 24th in the state in average percent growth for Kansas in the last 10 years.
Little River USD 444 ranks 24th in the state in average percent growth for Kansas in the last 10 years. In the 2001-2002 school year, the district had 286.3 full-time equivalent students. In 2011-2012, the number was 334.2. That is an overall increase of 17 percent. The school's average percent increase is 1.61 percent per year, according to latest comparable data from the Kansas Association of School Boards. This average percentage of growth places it below lead districts Chetopa-St. Paul, De Soto and Gardner-Edgerton, but far above other McPherson County schools. Little River's district did increase by about 6 percent this year, according to totals sent to the state by the district Sept. 20. If this upward trend continues, the KASB projects the school to have 353.6 full-time equivalent students by the 2016-2017 school year. Little River superintendent Milt Dougherty attributes the growth to several factors. This includes adding classes and programs if students ask for them, opening a virtual school and having a success-driven culture. “People come here for a reason,” he said. “I think people look around the area and say, 'If we're going to live here, that's where we want to go.' My job is to help each of those people find a pathway to success.” In many cases, that means offering classes students want. “We'll have our people say, 'Can you get this?' Our job is to find that,” he said. This includes culinary, veterinary science, forensics, agriculture, and other courses, many of which are offered virtually. “Our approach is, you tell us what you want and we'll try to provide that,” Dougherty said. Its virtual school, which was opened 2008, has provided it with growth — 50 students not already full time in the district are currently enrolled. But Dougherty said enrollment is increasing aside from those numbers as well. For traditional courses, classroom size remains small, but Dougherty said they're not much smaller than other area schools. But it is their culture, he said, that provides a draw for students. “For the most part, when you walk into a building, you can feel whether it's welcoming, supportive and (what their focus is),” he said. “Our approach is more about how we help kids be successful rather than how do we make sure our school looks like a school. When you hire good people who are focused on serving their customers, the rest kind of tends to take care of itself.” Sixth-grader Brady Stephenson said he likes Little River because students, teachers and faculty are nice and there are no bullies. Samantha Dold, a senior living outside of Little River, said she likes the district for several reasons. “I like how the classes are small and you get to know your classmates. It makes your relationships stronger,” she said. “Also, I've heard people come back (after graduation) and say the school made it easier for them to go to college.” Dougherty's approach to school is similar to a business mindset. He thinks of the school as a business, the children as customers, parents as clients, product as customer service and profit as satisfied customers. “We're going to keep finding ways to respond to our patrons,” he said. “If we do the right thing for our customers, everything else will take care of itself.” Dougherty said the district does not advertise or recruit, but offers “one-stop shopping.” “If you give people quality service, they keep coming back and they tell their friends,” he said. Last year, 50 students attended Little River from other districts. This year, 10 to 50 students are being bused from the Smoky Valley district alone. “I'm expecting to give a quality product to whoever comes to our school,” he said. “My goal is not to take more kids from anywhere. My goal is to be the best school we can be and let parents choose where they want to send their kids.”