Hundreds of Muskegon Heights Academy Students Absent From First Week of Class

Andrew Trzaska | August 26, 2013

Classes may have started early this August for students at Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, but the over half of the planned student population did not show up on the first day of school.

Regional Vice President for Mosaica Education Alena Zachery-Ross stated at Monday’s academy board of education meeting that the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy system currently has just over 750 students in the classroom as of today’s count.

Last year’s spring student count approached 1,200 students.

When 560 students showed up for class last Monday, the district used its parent liaisons to determine where the missing students were instead of in school, according to Zachery-Ross.  The liaisons developed a list, made calls and even divided up territory and went door to door to notify families that school was underway. Nearly 200 more students filtered in over the past week, reaching a total of 756 in class as of Monday.

Ross gave several reasons for the missing students that came out of these calls and visits. She said that some students were not aware school started before Labor Day. Others were still on out-of-town vacations. Others appeared to be taking care of other children who went to other districts, and were unable to leave them alone until after Labor Day, when other districts started classes.

The earlier start date, which came after a late release of students in mid-June, is a transition step toward Mosaica Education’s goal of year-round classes in the charter system.  The earlier start date was communicated to students and parents before the end of the previous school year.

It’s not apparent at this time how many students the district may have lost to other districts over the summer.  Timberland Charter Academy is maxed out with a waiting list planned, Muskegon Public Schools’ enrollment is anticipated to be down, and other districts have not completed count days for the fall semester, so total enrollments are unclear across all districts.

A goal set by Zachery-Ross hopes for total enrollment 1,328 students across the district during the 2013-2014 school year. How the district will nearly double its student population by fall count day in October is unclear, but board members and Zachery-Ross both expressed hopes that students missing this week will start attending next week after Labor Day has passed.

Ross said that Friday enrollment fairs, new ads on local radio including 103.7 The Beat, publicity surrounding last week’s Million Father March to district school buildings, and a Safe Schools Week campaign at the Middle School would hopefully help.

The task of gaining back missing students will involve heads of school, which are a fairly new group of leaders in the district.  Three of four principals of the district’s four buildings are new with the start of this school year, and none of them have held their positions since the district first started classes in September of 2013.  Carla Turner-Laws returned as principal of the high school from last school year.  Chinedu Ohan is now principal of the middle school, while Shawn Hart and Stacey Pallett took over as principals for Edgewood Elementary and King Elementary, respectively.

Board president Arthur Scott expressed concerns about enrollment in his comments Monday, but applauded the efforts of district staff thus far in the school year.

“This year started great for us. It started out with a bang, and we just need to get those enrollment numbers where they need to be,” said Arthur Scott. “Hopefully, after Labor Day, the students will be here.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst