Early tally shows district close to school-of-choice target

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published September 11, 2013

HARPER WOODS — While school districts generally don’t get a true feel for their student counts on the first day, the Harper Woods administration discussed its preliminary school-of-choice numbers during a board workshop meeting Sept. 3, which was also the first day of school.

“We’ve fallen a bit less than our targets,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said of the school-of-choice numbers.

While they didn’t quite reach their goal, they weren’t too far off on the first day of school.

By the first day that students arrived at school, the district felt confident that it had at least 72 qualified school-of-choice students in the district for the first week of school. They had budgeted for about 84, according to district officials.

“That’s a significant number of students,” Biederwolf said of the 72 school-of-choice students this year. “No, it’s not the full 84.”

The district had 160 students apply for the district’s traditional kindergarten to 12th-grade slots. It had closed the application process Aug. 20 due to state requirement issues.

There are qualifications that a student must have met to be a qualified applicant for school of choice, including (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) score criteria and previous grades. Kindergarten and first grade did not have admission criteria, according to the application packet.

Because there were more qualified applicants than slots in the second, third and sixth grades, the district held a lottery for those positions. Some students are on a waiting list in case slots open up, which could happen if there are less resident students than anticipated for a grade level.

When it comes to school enrollment, however, it seems that the numbers of students, including resident students, cannot be pinned down on the first day.

Biederwolf said they would have more concrete ideas about total enrollment numbers for the traditional schools by later the first week and into the counts on the second week.

The administration and school board also discussed resident students during the meeting.

Principals at the meeting said that some students don’t show up for school on the first day.

They called some parents on the first day to be told that the student would attend the second day.

Some resident students were still bringing in enrollment packets.

“I, myself, handed out four enrollment packets that came in that are residents,” Tyrone Elementary Principal Cheryl VanDerlinden said. “It was a crazy day.” 

Board Vice President David Kien said that students not showing up for the first day of school isn’t a new issue.

“This has been happening for years,” he said.

“We can’t draw any conclusions based on what we did or did not see today,” Biederwolf said.

Biederwolf said, as he was walking through the middle and high school building, he “felt pretty good about the number of students I saw today in the classrooms.”

New Secondary Principal Tonya Norwood was pleased with the first day, saying that they passed out procedures for opening day.

“We had an awesome opening day,” she said.

“We did pretty good for attendance compared to last year,” Norwood added.

Yet, they also didn’t have all of their students showing up on the first day, or for their first classes.

“A lot of the parents were dropping their kids off really late,” Norwood said, which she said affects attendance numbers.