First Day of School: Planning 101

With the start of school everyone is looking at the demographic planner for enrollment information. A little advice for school leaders before you get to the podium:

  • Use a year-over-year comparison to get a sense of the volatility of the numbers. If your  planner didn’t hit projections at School A until day 10 last year, don’t expect to hit them until day 10 this year.
  • There is a lot of noise in the first day of school enrollment numbers. If the roles from the previous year have not been purged, the numbers will be high. If you just report the actuals, your numbers will be low on the first day. For this reason many states use the 20th day of instruction as the official enrollment, some wait even longer.
  • Enrollment also vary by demographics and grade level. Elementaries will equalize within the first week, middle schools a little later, and high schools may take up to a month to really settle. The enrollment at higher poverty schools will be more variable and more students will enroll during the first week of school.
  • Your planner should be able to guide you regarding the schools that will have big swings in the numbers. Attendance boundary adjustments, a new housing development or a new charter school in the attendance area are just a few of the reasons for volatility in a school’s enrollment numbers.
  • Make sure you know what you are reporting – total enrollment, average daily attendance, or another variation of attendance figures.
  • Always have your planner compare your school by school numbers with each school’s rated capacity (and know how that capacity is calculated). Often rated capacities are an “ideal” condition and schools that exceed that capacity by a small amount can operate that way until a solution is found.
  • The big concerns should be those schools that have exceeded their projections by the staffing ratio and are above classroom capacity. Work with your principals to reach an accommodation – team teaching in one of the larger classrooms, use of a smaller room (office and/or conference room) for a self-contained class that has just a few students, float an elective class, using the library/media center for pull-out classes, etc. Your school leaders should know their buildings and what may or may not be possible. Because of the logistics involved, moving a temporary classroom into place on short notice is usually not a timely answer.
  • A less than two percent variation between total enrollment projection and actual total enrollment is acceptable.
  • Concentrate on figuring out why some schools where you had to adjust the staffing were high or low. Ask your planner for an after-action report after the dust settles. You will want to concentrate on those schools in which the projected enrollment was one staffing ratio above or below the actuals. The goal would be to not repeat that scenario at that school next year.
  • Accurate projections are one of the tools of leadership. If you can’t trust the numbers, change the way they are developed.
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