Enrollment on the rise: Hike at TPSD, Lee schools still modest

TUPEL0 – The usual swirl of students that floods the hallways of Tupelo High School during class changes is even larger this year.
The district’s biggest school has roughly 150 more bodies this year than it did at this time one year ago, according to enrollment data released recently by the Tupelo Public School District.
THS had 2,131 students, according to a count taken on Oct. 26. That is 157 more students than reported in a district count on Nov. 9, 2009.
“Classes are full,” said Tupelo High School Principal Lee Stratton. “Students are doing well. I would imagine the laptop initiative has a lot to do with the increase.”
Some of the high school’s increase is reflected in the High School Advancement Academy, for students who are two academic years behind their peers, and the School Aged Mothers program.
Both of those are new programs with 29 students each that are housed off the high school’s campus but which count toward THS’s enrollment.
As whole, the Tupelo Public School District’s enrollment showed an increase of 89 students as of Oct. 26, compared to the Nov. 9, 2009, count. Lee County Schools are up 26 students between Sept. 30, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010.
The biggest growth in the county school district was at Guntown Middle, where enrollment grew by 46 students. Saltillo Primary also has 32 more students than it did a year ago.
Saltillo Primary Principal Ken Smith said many of his 782-student school’s extra bodies are in a kindergarten grade that will have about 260 students.
“I would like that number to be a little smaller because it gives us a lower ratio and a better chance to help them to acclimate to school,” Smith said.
“The only thing we had to do was to look at the logistics of making sure we had enough time in the lunchroom and things like that, but for the education process, there was not a massive amount of impact.”
Rise comes amid tight budget
The increased enrollment comes during a time when school funding has been reduced, meaning districts are limited in their ability to hire additional teachers to compensate.
Both districts said they have enough teacher capacity, and the increased enrollment is small enough that they are not in danger of having class sizes exceed state Department of Education guidelines. Those guidelines vary from grade to grade.
However, if the increased enrollment remains throughout the year, it could lead each district to receive additional state funding next year. The state funds each district about $4,000 for every student, based upon average daily attendance.
Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said that any additional funding received because of increased enrollment would need to be used to add teachers and educational materials to accommodate those additional students
The enrollment data also shows demographic trends within both districts. Lee County’s schools in Saltillo and Mooreville are largely composed of white students, while schools on the southern end of the county are more mixed. Mooreville Middle, for instance, is 94.7 percent white students, while Saltillo High is 88.1 percent white students.
Shannon Primary is 52.5 percent white, Shannon High is 29.4 percent white and Plantersville Middle is 13.1 percent white.
“I don’t feel people who live in the Lee County School District are concerned about any imbalance,” Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott said when asked whether these numbers were a concern. “I think people are living where they want to live and going to school where they want to go to school. I think all of the children we have in each school are happy in the school they are regardless or race.
“We have concentrated on equity from this office. Our goal is that each child receives the same type of instruction and the same education.”
The Tupelo Public School District redrew its school lines two years ago to improve the socioeconomic balance of its schools. This year, every district school had between 57.6 percent and 65.9 percent economically disadvantaged students except five: Early Childhood Education Center (89.6), Tupelo Middle (50.3), Tupelo High (50.0), Carver Elementary (54.8) and Church Street Elementary (71.5).
The Early Childhood Education Center, Tupelo Middle and Tupelo High are the district’s only pre-kindergarten, middle and high schools and are thus as balanced as they can be. Shaver said there is some concern that Carver and Church Street, both K-2 schools that feed into Lawhon Elementary, aren’t better balanced.
“We are concerned with that disparity with Free-and-Reduced Lunch students,” Shaver said. “Our biggest disparity is two schools that feed into the same 3-5 school.
“It is something we will have to take a look at in some fashion. There have been no formal discussions but we need to be aware about it.”
Meanwhile, Shaver said he was encouraged to see enrollment up in the district.
“I have to feel the computer initiative is a big part of that,” Shaver said. “I think overall it is positive. It shows students and parents want to be a part of our school system.”
Scott said the district has already prepared for Guntown’s growth by building six new classrooms, which are expected to be completed by the time classes resume after Christmas break.
He said the district’s growth has steadily climbed over the last four or five years.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal