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Hobbs Schools continue enrollment growth

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Hobbs Schools continue enrollment growth

Andy Brosig/News-Sun

The number of students enrolled in Hobbs Municipal Schools increases yearly, continuing trends of recovery from lows brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LaShawn Byrd, deputy director of data analysis for the district, presented preliminary numbers on 40-day attendance in the district during the HMS Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

As of that 40th day, which fell on Oct. 11, there were 10,281 students in Hobbs Schools district-wide. That’s an increase of 233 students as of day 40 in 2022, she said.

“And from the end of the year to the 40th day last year enrollment is up 268 students,” Byrd said. “We are continuing a steady climb in increased enrollment.”

But chronic absenteeism in Hobbs Schools was in double digits across the district during that same period this year, Byrd said. To be labeled as chronically absent, students must miss 10 percent or more of school days completed during the reporting period, in this case four days, she said.

“We do have some bright spots,” Byrd said. “Mills, Edison and Broadmoor (elementary) are the three lowest (absenteeism) in the district. And Highland has the lowest of the middle schools.”

The district-wide average absenteeism rate was reported at 25 percent, she said. Mills Elementary reported 13 percent chronically absent, followed by Edison at 15 percent and Broadmoor at 17 percent. Highland Middle School reported 24 percent absence out of 864 students enrolled, according to the report.

Murray Elementary topped the list at 33 percent chronic absenteeism, or 152 students out of an enrollment of 467, Byrd said, followed by Houston Middle School at 32 percent, and Heizer Middle School at 30 percent. Will Rogers Elementary and Hobbs High School tied for fourth worst attendance reports at 28 percent.

With enrollment of 2,482 students, 691 HHS students were classified as chronically absent, the report said, and 91 of 325 students at Will Rogers met the criteria.

Board member Gary Eidson asked Byrd how Hobbs Schools compared to other districts around the state.

“We’re very similar to the state as a whole,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to compare the most current numbers, but if you look at the end of the year last year, they’re very similar (in the) 20 to 30 percent range of chronic absence.”

The statistics she presented aren’t “official” yet, Byrd said. They still have to be sent to the state Public Education Department for review before being compiled with other, state-wide district reports.

“We’ve done some things here locally” to address chronic absence, Superintendent of Schools Gene Strickland told the board Tuesday. Those include increased monitoring and tracking of attendance in the schools as well as changing the way the district enforces attendance requirements, he said.

One thing being done is “repurposing” the position of truancy officers within the district, Strickland said. With the addition of six Parent Attendance Liaisons, the district hopes to get parents of chronically absent students more involved in making sure their children are in school, he said.

Older students are more likely to take greater responsibility for getting themselves out of bed and on the way to school in the morning, more of the focus of the PALs will be working with parents of younger students.

“We recognize kindergarten (students) — with one of the highest chronic absentee levels — are not responsible for getting themselves to school, for example,” Strickland said.

It’s all part of the way Hobbs Schools are working to comply with rules put forth by the Attendance For Success Act, passed by the state legislature in 2019, to address student performance by reducing chronic absence. Legislators recognized students learn best when they’re in class and ASFA makes schools responsible for reporting attendance and intervening with students who are chronically absent.

At the same time enrollment is increasing, despite the ongoing issue of absenteeism, HMS students continue to perform well this year on early academic assessment for reading and math, Byrd told the board. Overall, students are starting out the year with greater grade-level reading and math comprehension than the prior year.

“Since coming out of COVID we are showing improvement every year,” Byrd said. The early assessments “are kind of like a pretest to see where students are starting out.”

Kindergarten and first grade students demonstrate consistently positive trends in reading readiness at the start of the school year, according to Byrd’s report. And, while second- and third-graders are also improving, it’s not at the same rate as the younger students. Fifth grade appeared to be the most stable in terms of reading readiness, the report found. Fourth grade was the only elementary group to show a decrease in reading readiness at the start of the school year, the report found. Sixth and seventh grade demonstrated “significant reduction” in readiness between last year and this year and, while not as dramatic, the percentage of eighth grade students also declined on the assessments, Byrd said.

Math preparedness showed similar trends, with “consistent, positive trends toward proficiency” in first, third, fourth and fifth grades, the report found. The number of students in seventh and eighth grade were “on target”, while sixth graders showed a marked increase in math readiness this year.

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