Dalton schools' enrollment rise puzzles officials

Dalton schools' enrollment rise puzzles officials

August 25th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

Teacher Blair Schmalian works with students Sessilia Cervantes, left, and Dominique Nelson during U. S. Government class at the Morris Innovative High School in Dalton on Thursday.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

10-day enrollment 2010

Whitfield County: 13,391

Dalton City: 6,993

10-day Enrollment 2011

Whitfield County: 13,245

Dalton City: 7,220

Source: Dalton, Whitfield school systems

DALTON, Ga. - The numbers are inexplicable for Dalton City Schools officials.

All summer they heard stories about Hispanic families leaving the city because of a lack of jobs in the area and the enactment of a new immigration law in July.

But when the children returned to schools across the city two weeks ago, enrollment numbers actually had increased. On Wednesday, schools officials released their 10-day enrollment count showing the system had a record high of 7,220 students, a 3 percent increase over last year.

"We're floored; we were all braced for a significant drop," said Jim Hawkins, Dalton City Schools superintendent. "Everybody wants to know why, and we are beginning to do some analysis, but we don't have a simple story explanation."

Whitfield County schools saw a slight decrease in enrollment -- just over 1 percent -- with 13,245 students.

Schools officials and city leaders have offered different theories for enrollment numbers. Some say families have stayed in the area while men have gone elsewhere to find jobs. Others think families may have moved into Dalton from nearby communities to be closer to services so they do not have to drive without licenses.

Hawkins said his staff members will continue to analyze the increase to see if they can see a clear pattern.

The school system did see about 8 percent of its students withdraw over the summer, but those were replaced by new students. The withdrawal rate was slightly more than last year but is fairly typical for a summer, Hawkins said.

"Our focus is the students are here and we need to teach them," Hawkins said.

The biggest increase was in Dalton Middle School, which already was over capacity last year. This spring, the school board began to consider options on how to address the issue without building a new school. They considered making Park Creek Elementary a sixth-grade academy or moving sixth graders back into elementary schools as two possible solutions.

Several groups continued research on the best options over the summer, while the board was waiting to make a final decision until after it received fall enrollment numbers.

The board plans to consider and identify a strategy to pursue during its next meeting Sept. 12.

Whitfield County spokesmen Eric Beavers said county schools have seen their numbers remain fairly level over the last few years, maybe dropping a few students one year and increasing a few the next.

The county's middle schools saw slight increases in enrollment, while the elementary and high schools saw decreases.