Itawamba County School Superintendent Trae Wiygul mulls over the school district’s Daily School Status Report, which documents attendance and absentees, every single day of the school week.
On Sept. 17, of the 3,480 students in the county, there were 212 absentees. Of those, 100 had already missed seven days or more of school. Wiygul said the numbers are staggering considering, at the time of reporting, the county is only 33 days into the 2020 school year.
Itawamba County uses block scheduling, with each school day featuring fewer, but longer classes. Because of this, students who miss a single day of class have missed the equivalent of two days’ instruction. Missing seven days, as is the case for those 100 students, is comparative to missing fourteen days of instruction in a classroom.
That’s nearly half 33 days since school began.
“Catching up after missing that much is very difficult, if not impossible,” Wiygul said. “Missing enough valuable class time leads to students dropping out, and we don’t want to see happen.”
Students must attend 63%, or nearly two-thirds of the day in order not to be counted absent.
But Wiygul said the absentee problem is two-fold. Not only do students lose valuable instruction time, the school district loses valuable funding.
“We need the students in school, not only for their own good, but for the good of the entire county,” Wiygul said.
State funding for all school districts is calculated through a series of formulas that determine how much each district receives. If the numbers are down, as in attendance, so are the dollars.
Comparison reports from Mississippi Department of Education for fiscal year 2019-2020 documenting school attendance reveal the Itawamba County School District is down more than $73,000 in funding.
“That’s nearly two teachers’ salaries,” Wiygul said. “We are getting by with the bare minimum in number of teachers right now. That’s money the district could really use.”
Wiygul said he would like to see new, much-needed classes added to the schools’ curriculums, but if the funding is not there, the new classes won’t be.
“It would be great if we could add a college and career readiness class or a life skills management class, both would be very beneficial to the students,” he said. “There are plenty of places the money could go, but it won’t happen if the funds are not available.”
State funding calculations are based on numbers from the school districts during the months of October and November. Attendance during those two months are critical. Wiygul hopes parents and students will be mindful of just how important school attendance is.
“If your child is sick and has something contagious, they don’t need to come to school, but if they are able to be in school, they need to be there,” Wiygul said. “The bottom line, it’s best for the student, and it’s best for the county.”