Enrollment up at start of school year

Rock Hall Elementary School staff member Anna Ashley and second-grader Spencer Douglas walk toward the gymnasium on the first day of school Sept. 3. At the start of the year, Kent County Public Schools is showing increased student enrollment.

By the numbers: KCPS Enrollment Galena Elementary: -18 students Garnet Elementary: +14 students Rock Hall Elementary: Same as last year Kent County Middle School: +11 students Kent County High School: +13 students Blended Learning (new this year): +16 students Total enrollment as of Sept. 9, 2019: 1842 students Total enrollment as of Sept. 28, 2018: 1806 students

ROCK HALL — While the numbers will not be finalized for reporting to the state until the end of the month, Kent County Public Schools is currently on the plus side of student enrollment.

There was much discussion at the Kent County Board of Education meeting Monday, Sept. 9 about the prior week’s start of the school year.

Board members spoke about attending open houses and back to school bashes. Superintendent Karen Couch congratulated KCPS staff on a successful first week.

“I had an opportunity to visit all the schools,” Couch told board members. “And I was very excited to see that the students were engaged and they were happy, and everyone did a great job making the first week of school successful.”

Perhaps the best news to come out of the school year’s start is the 36 additional students on the rolls over this time the previous year. That number is not the final count, though, submitted to the state. The last count used by the state in determining the enrollment portion of how each school district is funded for the next year is Sept. 30.

“I want to be cautiously optimistic,” Couch said Sept. 9. “Typically we still see students enrolling the first couples week of school. So I think we’ll have a better indication in the next couple of weeks of where we are.”

Total enrollment was 1,842 students as of Sept. 6, which is 36 more students than were reported Sept. 28, 2018.

“The numbers are still really very fluid,” said Supervisor of Student Services and Secondary Education Tracey Williams.

That includes 16 new students of the 23 enrolled in the Blended Learning program launching this year; the other seven are already enrolled in public school here. The program allows for select middle and high school students to receive homeschooling three or four days a week with at least one day of classroom instruction being held at the former Worton Elementary School building.

The three elementary schools are down a total of four students from last year. Galena reported 295 students this year against 313 last year. H.H. Garnet in Chestertown is up 14 students, with 324 currently enrolled. Rock Hall is flat with 199 students reported this year and last year.

Kent County Middle School in Chestertown is showing an increase of 11 students, reporting 429 on the rolls.

Kent County High School in Worton also is up, 13 students, for a current enrollment total of 579.

Williams said at this time last year, the district was shown being down 37 students from the year before.

Couch said the enrollment numbers were “devastating” this time last year.

“Usually we still have some students that have to be dropped,” Couch said. “By the first board meeting last year, we already knew it was not good news because we were already down that 37 students. So it got worse from there.”

She said the current increase is reason to be optimistic.

“Any positive gain is positive gain and I’ll take it,” Couch said, even if the final tally ends with an increase of just 10 students.

Board member Nivek Johnson asked if the additional students affected class size.

Couch said the board made the decision last year to fund teacher specialists so elementary school principals can spend more time in classrooms. She said they knew reducing teacher positions to fund the specialist positions would result in increased class sizes.

“Continuing to do things they way we’ve always done them and expect different results, I think that’s where we are now,” she said, adding that the district has been maintaining class sizes of between 15 and 18 students for years. “And quite frankly, student achievement has not improved. It’s been flat.”

Couch feels strongly that to ensure teachers remained engaged and focused on rigor, principals need to be a part of the solution. She said those teacher specialists will free up the elementary school principals to be in the classrooms more.

“We have to do something different. And it is going to be a little uncomfortable because in some cases, we are going to have a bit larger class sizes,” Couch said.

During the public participation portion of the meeting, parent Elizabeth Proffitt raised concerns about class sizes at Garnet.

She said in some cases there are 20 to 25 students in a class with one teacher. She questioned how those students would receive a personalized education.

Proffitt said smaller class sizes also matters for teacher retention. She said giving teachers 25 students without support discourages them from returning to Kent County schools.

“Bottom line is we can’t expect higher test scores in an overall classroom with lots of distractions and overworked teachers,” she said.

Proffitt urged board members to visit Garnet during classroom hours. She asked that they take their observations to the Kent County Commissioners “and explain to them how exactly their budgeting decisions are affecting our teachers and students,” as the county is the district’s top source of funds.

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