Waxahachie ISD's attendance numbers are down. But addressing the drop this year is tricky.
The student attendance level across Waxahachie ISD is the lowest it has been in years.
Superintendent Jerry Hollingsworth understands why that’s the case, but he said it’s still a concern.
During Monday’s WISD Board of Trustees meeting, Hollingsworth shared data to illustrate the district’s enrollment numbers, attendance rate and average daily attendance (ADA).
Hollingsworth said the district’s attendance rate as of the end of October was 94.4 percent. That’s the lowest it has been in at least the last four years and down from 94.7 in the 2020-21 school year.
“That is not where we want to be,” Hollingsworth said.
He pointed to the 2019-20 school year, when WISD had an attendance rate of approximately 97 percent.
“Above 96 percent as a district would be good,” Hollingsworth said after the meeting. “And we would like some campuses to be up to 98 percent. It would not be unusual to see us at that level.”
WISD did, however, improve its ADA from 9,040.62 in September to 9,364.74 in October.
Hollingsworth said the overall dip in attendance rate is concerning primarily because of how it impacts instruction.
“When you’re not in school, it’s hard to teach students,” Hollingsworth said.
There’s also the financial impact. The state ties the amount of funding school districts receive to their ADA.
For the 2020-21 school year, for example, WISD had a weighted ADA of 12,535.981 students and received $41,563,429 for these students, which is funding of $3,315.53 per student.
“But that’s not the reason we encourage it,” Hollingsworth said. “(Low attendance) impacts our ability to grow students academically.”
Hollingsworth said he understands why the attendance rate is low.
“There is still a residual effect from COVID-19,” Hollingsworth said. “We’ve had COVID this year. So if a child is symptomatic, it’s good that the parents won’t send them to school. That’s a positive thing, because it means the parents are adhering to our advice of keeping them at home if they feel sick. But on the flip side, there may be some cases where in a normal year if little Jerry has the sniffles, he’s still going to school. In some cases, now parents are choosing not to send them to school.”
So what is the district doing to encourage higher attendance? This year, nothing.
Hollingsworth said in past years WISD would use incentives such as perfect attendance awards, pizza parties for the class with the highest attendance, etc. to encourage high attendance rates.
“But we’re not currently doing that because of COVID,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s a balancing act that we’re walking, because we don’t want to incentivize parents to send their child who may be sick to school.”
Despite the low attendance rate, Hollingsworth said WISD’s rate is higher than most of the surrounding districts.
“This isn’t unique to Waxahachie ISD,” Hollingsworth said. “This is going on across the state and the nation.”