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After a count day decline, officials say enrollment begins to rebound in Detroit’s district

Anthony Lanzilote

After a year in which the Detroit school district saw its first enrollment gain in years, the fall count for 2018 was down slightly. But district officials said they’ve gained hundreds of students since that count was taken.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district has gained a net 1,000 students since Oct. 3, the official fall count day. On that day, the district recorded 49,686 students. That was down about 1 percent from the fall count in 2017, when the district recorded 50,130 students, according to data provided by the Michigan Department of Education.

Overall in schools across the city — including charter school districts — enrollment was down 2 percent. Charter districts can include one school or multiple schools.

The official count day numbers include full-time equivalent enrollment, which takes into account students enrolled in the district for less than a full day — such as those who split their time between two school districts.

The biggest gainers: Detroit Achievement Academy, a charter district that includes two schools, grew 46 percent; and Detroit Collegiate High School, a single charter school that grew 32 percent.

The biggest drops: Michigan Educational Choice Center, a charter district that used to include three schools but was reduced to one for this school year, saw a 64 percent drop. The decline was expected. WAY Michigan, another charter school, dropped 27 percent.

Enrollment stability is crucial to the financial health of all schools in Michigan, but particularly in Detroit, where the school district and charter schools heavily compete for a shrinking number of school-age students.

Vitti said much of the gain of 1,000 students since count day is from students who’ve left charter schools. Last year around this time, the district had gained 300 after count day.

But the gains come with some growing pains.

“It can cause a disruption to school and classroom expectations for routines,” Vitti said. “In addition, it can put a strain on our immediate distribution of books,” for schools that see a large increase in students.

Meanwhile, the district won’t get fully funded for those students right away. In Michigan, state school aid is calculated using a formula based on enrollment counts taken two days each year. For the current 2018-19 school year, 90 percent of the state aid comes from the Oct. 3 count. The remaining 10 percent came from the count taken Feb. 14 of last year.

The students who arrived in the district post Oct. 3 won’t get counted until the count taken on Feb. 13.

The district can, however, get a prorated amount of funding for students who began the year in one school district (or charter) and then transferred after count day.

The year-to-year enrollment data showed strong growth for the two charter schools that are part of the Detroit Achievement Academy district. Both schools are relatively new and adding grades each year, but co-founder Kyle Smitley said that alone “doesn’t account for all of the growth.”

“We are full at both schools with wait lists. People choose our schools for lots of reasons,” Smitley said, citing project-based learning, small environments, and a focus on social and emotional development.

The other big gainer, Detroit Collegiate High School, likely benefited from the closure of Detroit Delta Preparatory Academy for Social Justice, which shut down just a few weeks into the school year. Detroit Collegiate was one of two schools that Detroit Delta students were urged to attend. The schools shared a management company.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hamilton Academy, a charter school that experienced a 23 percent decline. Jeff Hamlin, superintendent for the school, attributes the decline to an unexpected factor.

In June, Hamlin said, Google listed the school as being “permanently closed.”

The school already struggles with a high rate of mobility, and the “closed” designation likely turned off parents searching online for potential schools.

The school’s website was updated to make it clear it was still open. And “we had to go stand outside with a sign that said we were open,” Hamlin said.

“It took a good two months for us to get it fixed, with Google” Hamlin said. And by then, the damage was done.

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