PE Schools Not Alone

Published 3:11 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – The number of students attending Prince Edward County Public Schools is on the decline, but Prince Edward is not alone.

Director of Accountability and Research Dr. Roy Echeverria presented a summary of a detailed enrollment trend report at the January 9 school board meeting, though he did note there are limitations on questions that can be answered based on data.

“…To answer the question about the enrollment, I had to go to different sources of data,” Dr. Echeverria said. “Sometimes I was able to answer some of the questions, but not all. So this is an attempt to provide an overview of the enrollment trend in Prince Edward County…”

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School officials have asked about the numbers in recent board meetings and Dr. Echeverria's detailed report offered an in-depth look.

“One thing that…seems to be the pattern is that a lot of us have declining enrollment in the region,” Dr. Echeverria told the board. “So it's not that we are unique in that sense.”

Dr. Echeverria, citing Virginia Department of Education's fall membership report (which factors students in grades pre-k-12), presented figures from region eight school divisions over the past four years. (See related chart.) Halifax was down from 5,999 in 2009-10 to 5,709 for the current year; Mecklenburg fell from 4,821 to 4,678; Greensville dipped from 2,671 to 2,551; Nottoway went from 2,366 to 2,351; Appomattox from 2,334 to 2,294, Charlotte 2,198 to 2,050; Buckingham 2,042 to 2,013; Brunswick 2,186 to 1,976; Amelia 1,844 to 1,786; Lunenburg 1,648 to 1,580 and Cumberland 1,531 to 1,419.

Prince Edward fell from 2,614 to 2,320.

According to data presented, the percentage of Prince Edward County's membership decreased (comparing the number of students on October 31) by 2.7 percent between 2009-10 and 2010-11, 5.12 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, and 3.57 percent between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The majority of students that have exited the school system this year have transferred to other public schools, according to the report. One hundred and fifty one transferred to a public school, different local education agency (LEA) in the same state and 31 transferred to a public school in a different state, 19 discontinued schooling, five transferred to private, religious, same LEA, five transferred to home schooling, four transferred to a school outside the country, three transferred to private, non-religious same LEA, and three transferred to private, religious, different state, and ten were listed as “other.”

“That's a lot of students for just a few months,” noted school board member Dr. Ellery Sedgwick.

“…Remember there's an exchange of some going and some coming,” Dr. Echeverria cited.

The breakdown of students leaving the system, from August to October, reveals that it is sprinkled across the grades. The fewest were at the kindergarten level (10), the highest number at first grade (27). And, it was also noted, there's a bump at the inflection points.

There were 22 at the fifth grade level and 21 at the ninth grade level.

“What's particularly troublesome to me, though, if you're a senior, we're losing 23 of 'em in that two month period,” school board member Dr. Lawrence Varner highlighted. “Do we follow up on those, why…?”

Dr. Echeverria responded that they do, but also noted that “…some students may go to jail, for instance, and turn 18 and they don't come back. And there are a few of them. A few. That's one category. Now there are others that are no-show that we are following up on. Sometimes these kids have transferred to another school division and…request for documents for transfers were late and we have to go back and recode.”

On the flip side, there has also been a flow of students into the system. There were 64 kindergarten students, 21 first graders, 19 second graders, 14 third graders, 14 fourth graders, 12 fifth graders, 12 sixth graders, 11 seventh graders, eight eighth graders, eight ninth graders, 11 tenth graders, three juniors and 17 seniors.

Overall, 231 children exited/withdrew from the school system between August and October, while 214 entered over the same period.

Dr. Echeverria also presented information on where the students are coming from and, essentially, where students are going is also the source of new students to the division. Of the 132 new elementary students entering the system, 86 were coming to school for their first day and 39 came from a public school in Virginia or from another state.

The majority of the new entries, Dr. Echeverria highlighted, are coming from other public schools.

Prince Edward has also been impacted with an increasing number of students receiving home instruction. In 2009-10, he cited, there were 64. The figure grew to 67 in 2010-11, 90 in 2011-12 and to 108 in this current fiscal year.

Some Discussion

While the school board had a wealth of numbers to weigh through in looking at the declines, there remains a question.

“The why is the difficult question,” Dr. Echeverria said.

One limitation, he cited, that they have now is that in most cases families leave without telling the school before they leave. They leave and then, after the fact, when they are in another school division, they request their transfer documents.

“So that opportunity for us to interview, to survey…is basically lost. And the data that we are using in PowerSchool to code exits and entries doesn't have a code for…the why question…because it's irrelevant for the state,” Dr. Echeverria pointed out.

Should they be directed to pursue the answer, there, too would be some limitation. Dr. Echeverria raised the question of how many people are going to be interested in answering their survey, and questioned if it would be representative of all of the students that left “or, let's say a parent talking to a member of the board…how representative that is of the population of the students that are leaving…so generalizing from a…small sample size is sometimes unwarranted.”

The output data that they have in their system now, he offered, they cannot use it to answer the question.

Board Chairman Russell Dove suggested it could be a lot of things-noting such possibilities as job transfers, divorce of parents, and the military.

School board member Linda Leatherwood also noted, “It appears that other counties may be asking that same question.”