Two weeks into the virtual learning experience, school officials in Maryland’s Montgomery County reported that student enrollment is down by more than 3,300.
Montgomery County Public Schools is the largest school system in the state and reported student enrollment figures at 166,000 before the school year started Aug. 31.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Kecia Addison, director of the Office of Shared Accountability, told board members that including pre-K students, the school system had a total enrollment of 162,656 as of Sept. 7.
Board member Patricia O’Neill called the figures startling. It’s something that she had been hearing anecdotally, that some people are sending their children to private school due to in-person learning.
“Do we know any information?” O’Neill asked.
“We don’t have any good information yet on why this has shifted,” said Superintendent Jack Smith.
He noted the first few weeks of school often sees a seesaw effect in student enrollment as new students get formally enrolled, and students who may have moved or transferred have their paperwork sent to their new schools.
O’Neill expressed concern over the numbers, noting that this also has budget implications, as school funding formulas take student population into account.
During Thursday’s meeting, board members heard from principals and teachers about the start of the school year, which under current plans will be held virtually until the start of the next semester.
Nick Asante, the student member of the board, told his colleagues, “I think, thus far, it’s gone pretty well.”
“Lessons have been pretty engaging, and I know teachers have been trying their best,” adding that it feels like teachers are a lot more energetic online, which he said was “interesting to see.”
Smith said although the plan and circumstances are not perfect, the system set up to deliver instruction online is “profoundly better than it was last spring.”
Smith suggested that given the ability of the school system to deliver instruction online, snow days could melt into oblivion.
“There is no excuse ever again to have to make up a snow day,” he said.
While there’s no concrete proposal to do that, discussions of the next year’s academic calendar will start next week.
During Thursday’s meeting, principals discussed the tactics they used to try to make sure that all families received the equipment they needed to get their children ready for the school year.
Flower Hill Elementary School Principal Josh Fine described how over the summer, his staff worked to do “virtual home visits” and link with speakers of other languages to prepare families.
Fine said a new parents group, “Padres Unidos,” was created to engage the Spanish-speaking population in the school community. Fine believes it paid off.
“I’m happy to say that 97% of our students logged in last week for the first week of school,” Fine said. His staff is working to connect with the remaining 3% who did not connect for virtual instruction.
Farquhar Middle School Principal Joel Beidleman described doing home visits in person. He told board members it was part of a push borne of a concern over unanswered phone calls or a lack of response to outreach on the internet.
Beidleman said there’s an effort to make sure that no student falls through the cracks.
“There’s a lot of principals out there,” he said, “just going to homes and getting things done.”
Board member Karla Silvestre asked the board to come up with a way to standardize outreach, so that making sure all parents were prepared for school wasn’t dependent on what she called “superstars,” such as those principals who went the extra mile to ensure that families were connected to their local schools.
O’Neill told her fellow board members that during the Thursday’s meeting, she lost power, her WiFi was unavailable and she was temporarily knocked off the Zoom meeting.
“I panicked,” she said, describing the concern over missing the discussion, “And I know that it is a frustration that many people will have” over the course of the semester.
“I really want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to our staff. I know this is a heavy lift for our teachers,” O’Neill said.
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