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Hobbs Schools enrollment continues rebound

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Hobbs Schools enrollment continues rebound

Andy Brosig/News-Sun

There was a marked increase in the number of students attending Hobbs Municipal Schools this year from last year as enrollment continues to rebound from lows experienced during and immediately following the shutdown of schools by the governor in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

LaShawn Byrd, HMS deputy director for data analysis, presented the enrollment numbers as of Dec. 1 — the 80th day of the 2023-24 school year — to the district’s Board of Education last week.

While the number of students attending Hobbs Schools decreased slightly from the last reporting period on the 40th day of classes — 10,281 students compared to 10,268 — enrollment increased from 10,197 students on the first day of school on Aug. 9, Byrd said.

The 80th day “seems like forever ago already,” she told the board Tuesday. “We’re still in the process of validating those results.”

The most current snapshot from Dec. 1 represents an increase of 250 students compared to the same reporting period in the 2022-23 school year, Byrd said. And overall enrollment as of Tuesday was slightly greater, at 10,271 students.

Hobbs Schools uses two metrics to track student numbers, she said, the actual number of students enrolled, and the so-called membership, which is based on state funding. Membership is based on services each student requires during the school day, Byrd said.

“Enrollment is the actual number of human beings that sit in chairs and are taught by a teacher,” she said. “Membership is based on the funding unit. For example, a preschooler only attends for half a day, so they’re counted as half a unit. It’s all based on that funding formula.”

Board member Terry O’Brain said he thought most of the HMS pre-kindergarten programs were full day. Superintendent Gene Strickland said that is correct, but funding rules from the New Mexico Public Education Department haven’t caught up to the reality.

“The majority of our pre-k programs are full day,” Strickland said. “We made that switch this year in response to pre-k funding, however the (NMPED) rules don’t reflect that yet. Those dollars are still funded to us through (Early Childhood Education and Care Development) and not our (State Equalization Guarantee Distribution).”

Byrd also presented the 80-day attendance report to the board.

Districts in New Mexico are required to report the number of students who miss school at the 40-day and 80-day reporting periods to NMPED, alongside the enrollment numbers.

At the 40-day reporting period, the number of so-called “chronically absent” students district wide totaled 2,711, or 25 percent of the then 10,752 enrolled students, according to Byrd’s report. That increased to 3,116 students reported chronically absent by the 80-day reporting period, or 31 percent of the 10,176 students enrolled.

Byrd has said she’s not surprised when the numbers increase over the course of a school year.

The totals are linear, Byrd told the News-Sun in conjunction with previous absentee reports, meaning they continue to increase each time a student misses school throughout the school year.

NMPED recognize three scenarios when a student misses school:

• Excused absences, allowable for a variety of reasons including “medical, death, religious or tribal obligations;”

• Medical absence, “parent or doctor-authorized absence for medical reasons or pregnant/parenting,” and;

• Unexcused absence, when students are “absence from class/school day for which the student does not have an excuse” as defined in local district policy or the state’s Attendance for Success Act passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2019.

Under AfSA, while some absences are excused, all absences count against the school district when calculating chronic absenteeism, Byrd said.

“When (PED) is counting chronic absenteeism, excused and unexcused absences both count, because they’re looking at it as a lost day of instructional time,” she said. “That’s the logic the law is looking at (the numbers) from.”

Under AfSA calculations, for example, Booker T. Washington Elementary School reported the greatest percentage of chronic absences so far this year, with 69 of 171 students, or 40 percent of the enrolled student body.

With the number of what would have been excused absences prior to the AfSA adoption subtracted from the total, the 80-day report for Booker T. Washington decreases to 39 absences, or 23 percent, Byrd said.

Other HMS campuses showed similar decreases when the AfSA-required numbers were subtracted, as did the district report overall, declining to 912 chronic absences or just 9 percent.

NMPED and AfSA defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more classes or days of school for any reason if the student is enrolled in the district for 10 days or more, according to Byrd’s report.

In other business, the board:
• Hosted Fifth Judicial District Magistrate Judge Clipper Miller to administer oaths of office to members Kerry Romine, Joseph Calderon and Terry O’Brain. Romine was sworn in after defeating challenger Jennifer Grassham in November to fill the seat vacated with the retirement of long-time board member Gary Eidson;

• Approved a request from Jason Paris, head principal at Hobbs High School, and Bryan Cheney, Manuel Sanchez and John Duskey, directors of the Hobbs Eagle Band, for the spring band trip to perform at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, Texas, May 28-31. In addition to performing, the band members will spend a day at Sea World and tour the Alamo, San Antonio River Walk and other activities, according to the request. The group will consist of 82 students and 15 chaperones at a cost of almost $800 per student, Parish and Cheney told the board, but no district funds will be used for the trip.

• Approved extending Superintendent Strickland’s contract through the 2026-27 school year.

• The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 20.

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