We’re now three weeks into this new school year with plenty of good things happening in and outside of the classroom. Our primary focus is on the continuing academic improvement for our students as they wind a sometimes confusing pathway towards college and career readiness. We have new principals leading our elementary schools and district-wide, we’ve taken big steps towards filling out our 1-to-1 technology program, putting the technology tools in the hands of our students that will expand their learning opportunities and prepare them for their futures.
The biggest surprise by far has been the unexpected growth in the number of students this fall attending our schools. While the district has been in a growth pattern going back over twenty years (see the chart at bottom of this post), with the overall student-age population declining in Michigan right now, we expected to remain just above the 1,800 student mark similar to the past couple years. Because of a significant deficit caused by the Governor and state legislature’s cuts in our funding, we made downward adjustments to our teaching, support and administrative staff to balance the budget and keep our district solvent. Little did we expect that we’d see an 8.2% increase in students this fall! As I write this post, we have 1,953 students in our classrooms, an all-time record for a school district many folks outside this area wrote off years ago as a dying community (see chart below). While this number will fluctuate a small amount by the official count day on October 2, it’s clear Godfrey-Lee Public Schools has become a “destination district” for students and parents seeking a small, student-focused, family-centered, community-based public school district.
The reputation of our schools and our professional staff have been the primary reason our district has continued a pattern of growth. Combined with a great supporting cast of para-professionals, athletic coaches, and volunteers in our schools, we have “quietly” developed our academic and student-support programs to the point that we will likely have to cap future enrollments of students who do not reside within our school district boundaries. The current enrollment is a bit above our capacity to keep class sizes smaller, a feature of our district we want to maintain to meet the needs of each and every student. Those familiar with our district understand that space is limited and all of our schools are at or slightly above capacity. For this year, we have already addressed some of the growth “problem” by adding elementary classrooms, recalling all of our laid-off teaching staff, and expanding some hours for our support staff. We have more to do and I’ll be working with the Board, administrative team, and our staff associations in the coming days and weeks to ensure we are appropriately staffed while maintaining a sound fiscal posture.