Schools are back, Coweta enrollment is on track

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School is back in session and Coweta County schools began the year Aug. 8 with virtually the same number of students as this time last year. Though still a bit early to say what enrollment numbers will look like for the year, Coweta is in better shape than some area counties. The reason is that enrollment is directly linked to school system funding.

School system spokesman Dean Jackson said the 2011-2012 school year got off to a smooth start, with initial enrollment numbers of 21,736 students virtually mirroring those of the 2010-2011 school year when the first day of school saw 21,758 kids arriving for classes.

The beginning numbers in most every school system are just that. New students generally continue to filter into the school system rather steadily in the first month and more gradually for the next few months. That said, Coweta will likely be within range of the 22,438 students from last year.

But why do enrollment numbers matter? Some school systems, such as Fayette County, have been losing hundreds of student per year for the past several years, but that is not the case in Coweta County. In fact, Coweta has experienced the opposite. Over the past decade, the increase in student enrollment has essentially mirrored the county’s population growth. The Coweta County School System back in 2001 had an enrollment of 16,800. Ten years later that figure has grown to 22,438.

Looking at the past five years, Coweta’s student enrollment was 21,206 in 2007, 21,719 in 2008, 22,138 in 2009, 22,501 in 2010 and 22,438 in 2011. The decrease of 63 students from 2010 to 2011 was the first year-to-year loss on record for the school system.

In one sense it might not matter much if enrollment increases or stays flat for a few years. The problem, if or when it occurs, comes when enrollment decreases, such as what has been happening next door in Fayette County for the past few years. Significant decreases in enrollment can leave administrators and school board members struggling with creative ways to offset falling revenues that can quickly amount of millions of dollars. Put in perspective, each student generates approximately $4,000 per year and every 250 students translates into $1 million.

Meantime, Jackson reported earlier in the week that the new school year began without a hitch. Others in the school system agreed.

“I spoke with principals throughout the day, and they reported a very smooth opening around the county,” said Superintendent Steve Barker.

Barker began the day with a word of thanks to the county’s bus drivers, via their radios, as the drivers began their 241 bus routes around the county. He visited several schools, starting with Jefferson Parkway Elementary and the school system’s busy central registration center on Werz Drive, Jackson said.

Car traffic at county schools is generally expected to improve as many students shift to riding school buses throughout the month of August. 
“It was remarkably smooth,” said Northgate High School Principal Therese Reddekopp.    “Students came ready for the new year. They were happy to see their friends and just excited to be here. We’re ready for day two.”

Reddekopp said that heavy attendance at Northgate’s Friday orientation may have had something to do with an easy first day.

“I think we had nearly 100 percent attendance, a huge crowd, for our 9th Grade Campus orientation in particular,” she said. “Everyone was able to familiarize themselves with the campus. We were able to help students with schedules, and parents were able to sign up for Parent Portal at the orientation. I think that’s part of the reason today went so well.”

Jackson said parents of all Coweta County students can sign up for Parent Portal, an online student portal that allows families to view their current class schedules, courses, grades, daily attendance, testing information, student fees and other records, as well as school calendars, special communications and teacher email links.

To sign up for the free system, parents have to visit their child’s school, show identification and sign a Parent Portal user agreement, to receive a unique activation key code, said Jackson.