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School attendance ripples through week 1
Officials watch some schools for capacity concerns
New eighth grader Damia Odum, center right, buries her face in laughter as she catches up with friends Travonna Turner, far left, Christin Byrd, center left, and Brianna Howard during lunch on the first day of the 2017-18 school year at Langston Chapel Middle School Tuesday. Attendance in the Bulloch County Schools did not set a record this week, despite a higher enrollment number the first day of classes. Both enrollment and attendance fluctuated during the first four days of school. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Attendance in the Bulloch County Schools did not set a record this week, despite a higher enrollment number the first day of classes. Both enrollment and attendance fluctuated during the first four days of school.

Peak attendance for the week was 10,374 Thursday, and off again to 10,244 on Friday, according to numbers provided Friday by Hayley Greene, the school district’s public relations specialist. School system officials, however, still expect attendance to surpass last year’s count of about 10,550 students soon, and are watching some schools over concerns that they are filled to near capacity.

“What we’ve seen over the years is a pattern of roughly 2½ percent growth, so it’s been very steady, and that’s been for many years now,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson told reporters Tuesday morning.

“So we projected that we’d start at around 10,500 students,” he said. “What we will see is there will be a lot of volatility, actually in the first month. Then it will start to settle down.”

At the end of that day, the first day of school for 2017-18, Wilson said that growth might have accelerated to a little over 5 percent. But he expressed caution, noting that this had been based on “a quick glance” at first-day numbers.

Indeed, Tuesday’s preliminary enrollment count of 10,616 students was more than 5 percent higher than a first-day enrollment count in 2016. But enrollment includes students expected to return, as well as those newly registered, and at first can include students who have moved away but haven’t registered yet in other districts.

The Bulloch County Schools’ enrollment count dropped to 10,489 Wednesday before increasing again to 10,532 Thursday and dropping back to 10,426 Friday, according to numbers Greene supplied at the end of the week. On Tuesday, the actual number of children in attendance at the 15 schools had been 10,176.


Schools of concern

The school system has capacity to accommodate growth, Wilson said Tuesday, but growth is affecting some schools more than others.

Administrators were concerned about a “bottleneck” at Southeast Bulloch Middle School and about Mill Creek Elementary School because of its size, and there may be early signs of a challenge at Brooklet Elementary, he said, citing examples.

Last week, Mill Creek Elementary was full to 94 percent of its official capacity and Brooklet Elementary to 88 percent capacity, Greene reported Friday after consulting Paul Webb, the school system’s chief operations officer.

Mill Creek, designed for about 750 students, had 709 students enrolled and in attendance Thursday. Brooklet Elementary, which is apparently a little larger, had 710 students enrolled but 692 in attendance Thursday, down from 700 in attendance in day before.

“When a school … rises to 88-90 percent capacity, we monitor enrollment,” Greene said.

Julia P. Bryant Elementary School was full to 85 percent of its capacity, while Southeast Bulloch Middle School and Langston Chapel Elementary School were both at 83 percent. All other schools were operating at 59 to 76 percent capacity, she reported.

“The school system may consider additional transportation zone changes in the future to help manage student populations across our district’s facilities,” Greene said.

When transportation zones are redrawn without altering attendance zones, school buses that carried students living in an area to one school take them to a different school. But parents have the option of keeping their children at the previous school if the parents provide the transportation.

In 2015 Webb led in redrawing transportation lines between Langston Chapel Elementary School, which was then crowded to capacity, and Sallie Zetterower Elementary School. The move returned Langston Chapel Elementary’s attendance to well within limits and increased the use of Sallie Zetterower Elementary School, which had a relatively new building that was previously about half full, Greene noted.

“The same situation exists now at Mattie Lively Elementary School,” she wrote. “It is a new campus, and its student population of 594 is below its capacity of 850.”

No decisions have been made about shifting attendance lines between Mattie Lively and Mill Creek or any of the other schools, but officials are monitoring the school-specific enrollment trends.


Ups and downs

Attendance and enrollment fluctuate during the first few weeks for a couple of reasons, Greene said in an email.

“Some parents delay registering their child, who may be a new or intra-district (within the county) transfer student, until the first day of school,” she said. “Our school offices are open at key times during the summer to assist families, and we encourage parents to register children before the first day of school.”

On the other hand, some students enrolled here leave the school system or the community during the summer and their parents do not withdraw them from school, she noted.

Some attendance fluctuations also occur when high school students enroll in college though the Move On When Ready program and then are not present at their high school during a morning attendance count or at all during the day, Greene said. For those who take some high school classes, attendance is recorded by class period instead of the whole day.

“By Wednesday of next week, we'll begin to see more stable attendance and enrollment numbers,” Green wrote. “Our first official count will come in October with our required Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) student report to the Georgia Department of Education. This is why we use FTE as our official count.”


October numbers official

The Bulloch County Schools’ FTE counts for the past six Octobers demonstrate the slow, steady growth Wilson had described Tuesday morning:  9,776 students in October 2011; 9,891 in October 2012; 9,991 in 2013; 10,185 in 2014; 10,324 in 2015; and 10,547 students in October 2016.

The average growth rate over five years was less than 2 percent a year, and attendance grew 2.2 percent from October 2015 to October 2016.

School systems also submit an FTE report each March. Bulloch’s reported count remained very stable in 2016-17, from 10,547 in October to 10,533 in March. School system officials have cited 10,550 as last spring’s enrollment, but the March 2 FTE is shown as 10,533 on the Georgia Department of Education’s internet database for the reports.

“By the 10th day of school the numbers will begin to stabilize, and we'll see the enrollment back up over 10,550, and average attendance will be in the 95 percent to 100 percent range,” Greene wrote Friday. “We will still see a good deal of student enrollments next week.”


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.





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