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Baltimore County schools saw a slight increase in enrollment this year for the first time in several years, according to a new report.

While school officials say it's too early to pinpoint the reasons, they believe it signals the beginning of a "slow upturn" projected for the next decade or so, with some possible fluctuations, said Chris Brocato, a school system planning analyst.

This year, 103,832 students are enrolled in county schools, up by about 190 students, according to the district's 2009 report on enrollment, projections and capacities.

Overall, pockets of decline and growth continue throughout the region - the latter especially evident in the central and northeastern areas.

"You do see those demographic ebbs and flows, but by and large, what you see reflected in these numbers is a very strong, very stable school system," said Charles A. Herndon, a schools spokesman.

The northeast continues to be one of the growth areas, said Ghassan Shah, the district's planning administrator, pointing to new developments and infrastructure improvements along Route 43. Vincent Farm Elementary, which opened last school year, was built to address the needs of that corridor, Shah said. "We feel we're in a good position, educationally, to address the growth that is occurring in that area."

Several central-area elementary schools continue to far exceed their state-rated capacities, most notably Rodgers Forge, which has climbed to about 81 percent over capacity. Others include Hampton (45 percent overcapacity), Stoneleigh (nearly 25 percent), and Padonia and Prettyboy (both about 20 percent).

The construction of West Towson Elementary, set to open in August, is meant to help alleviate overcrowding in some of those schools.

Catonsville Middle, as well as Dogwood and Hillcrest elementaries, experienced double-digit percentage drops in capacity because of building additions either at or near completion, which increased the capacities of those southwest-area facilities, school officials said.

A few southeast-area schools reflect the success of efforts to better balance enrollments there, officials said. Grange Elementary, for example, rose more than 20 percent to nearly full capacity because it now serves its own local English-language students instead of sending them to a cluster program at another facility, said Pam Carter, a boundary specialist. And Chesapeake Terrace and Edgemere elementaries both stand at about 85 percent of their capacities - compared with 63 percent and 94 percent, respectively - after recent redistricting.

"The populations are very nicely balanced," Carter said. "We think that's a pretty good thing for both communities."

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