At a work session of the Shelby County school board on Tuesday, board members called for a better system of registering and tracking students as they move from school to school.
The call comes after superintendent Dorsey Hopson II informed the board earlier this month that fewer students are attending the district than anticipated this year, and that some of those students may be truant.
Shelby County Schools projected that 117,226 students would enroll in 2014-15. So far, 113,541 students are in school. This is the first year after six Memphis suburbs created new districts carved out of the merged Shelby County system; the state-run Achievement School District, charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling are also enrolling increasing numbers of students.
Hopson said he has created a committee to examine and improve the district’s registration process. He said he would like to see students automatically registered for the next year if they did not indicate that they intended to change schools.
The district is in the process of requesting numbers and cross-checking records to determine where students have gone.
In a presentation to the board, William White, the district’s chief of planning and accountability, framed the mismatch in terms of the Southern Heritage Classic.
If the Classic’s projected attendance was 3,086 higher than its actual attendance, the presentation reads, “Are the 3,086 “missing” people identifiable? Who are they? What are their names?”
The point was that many of the students who were marked “missing” are not actually individual students who the district specifically expected to be in school; the 117,000 number was just a projection. The district does not currently have a system that allows schools to say exactly which students are expected to enroll.
White said the district was requesting records and looking up individual students to determine which are in other schools and which are actually truant.
“We don’t have a way to drill down and determine who’s there school by school,” Hopson said.
Board members called for a more-developed or new system to get that information.
“It seems like we’re still pretty far off from knowing what happened to lots of students this year,” said board member Chris Caldwell.
“We should be moving away from estimations to actuals because I think we can do that,” said board member Teresa Jones.
Hopson made it clear that while many students have left the district to attend new suburban school districts, charter schools, the state-run Achievement School District, private, or home schools, the district still has an issue with truancy and mobility.
His message to parents on Tuesday was to make sure their children are in school. “We have a big truancy problem in Shelby County Schools, and we need to figure it out.”