The Lawrence County School System’s enrollment is up by 61 students this school year, which translates to more funding and more teachers for the county schools, the school board announced in a regular meeting on Monday. 

“For the first time in over 20 years, we have gained in attendance,” Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said. “This is another sign of stability for our school system. I think, hopefully through our efforts, we’ll see we’re offering things we haven’t been able to offer in the past like our virtual program, so we can increase enrollment.”

The school’s 2020-2021 enrollment, which was measured through a 20-day attendance count recorded from Sept. 16 to Oct. 5, shows numbers up by 61 compared to last school year when 4,551 students were enrolled with the school system. As of Monday, attendance records showed an average of 50 additional students attending during the 20-day count, with a final count of 4,613 students enrolled. 

The highest student gains were seen at East Lawrence High School, which added 47 students, and Lawrence County High, which added 32 students. Some schools’ enrollment decreased, including East Lawrence Middle, which lost 10 students, Hatton Elementary, which lost 26, Moulton Middle, which lost 14 and Mt. Hope Elementary, which lost six students.

Hatton gained 11 students and R.A. Hubbard gained seven, according to enrollment data released on Monday.

Because of these positive enrollment numbers, and the average of 50 students gained each day during the count, Smith said the school system can expect about $325,000 in additional state funding for the school year. He said a significant portion of those funds will be allotted to teacher’s salaries, which means the school system will be able to pay for an additional 2.5 teacher units, Smith said. 

He said the schools that experienced the highest gain have earned additional teachers, and added that it will be left up to the principals on how to use those added teachers.

Smith said the virtual and blended learning programs offered this year following the COVID-19 pandemic were partly to thank for the high attendance rate, but he doesn’t expect numbers to drop again next year. 

“I can tell you off the top of my head about a half-dozen kids that were held out of kindergarten this year because of the pandemic, and our classes are getting bigger. We’re moving kids in. The programs we’re bringing in--we’re getting kids from outside the school district,” he said. 

Before the pandemic, Smith said the school system was already preparing to offer virtual earning options to its students. 

“This played right into our hands. Of course COVID-19 is bad, but some of the technology and some of the programs we were able to offer, we were planning on doing it anyway,” he said. “There are things we learned from COVID-19--teacher strategies and things like that that we’ll use from now on. I don’t think we’ll go back to school exactly like we were before.”

Smith said data showed 65% of students enrolled with the system were enrolled for traditional in-person learning. He said about 25% of the student body had opted for virtual learning and 10% of students had chosen the blended option. He predicted virtual and blended numbers will drop some in the next two years, but said the learning options will still be available to students moving forward and expects high school students to continue to take advantage of the new learning programs.

In other business, the school board approved a $12,750 contract with Carpet One of Huntsville and Lawrence County High School for new carpet installation in the school’s bandroom. The board also approved a $21,960 contract with McDaniel Window and Door Company for replacement windows to be installed at Hatton Elementary, and an $88,717 contract with Sophos Antivirus Products for a three-year renewal in antiviral and technology software for the School System’s Technology Department. 

Board members accepted the resignations of Lawrence County High special education teacher Christa Frakes, effective Oct. 9, Mt. Hope Elementary teacher Allison Waldrep, effective Oct. 5, and East Lawrence Elementary Pre-K teacher Melanie Connolly, effective Sept. 18. 

All board members were present for the monthly meeting except District 2 Board member Gary Bradford. The next Lawrence County Board of Education meeting will be held at the school system’s training center on Market Street in downtown Moulton following a reception for the retirement of District 3 Board member Beth McCulloch Vinson at 5 p.m. 

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