Study finds pandemic negatively impacted some Shelby County school districts

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 4:32 PM CDT
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MILLINGTON, Tenn. (WMC) - Districts across Shelby County finished up their school year Friday.

Schools in Millington, Bartlett, Arlington, Germantown, and Lakeland all finished up the school year.

It was a year like no other.

A statewide study shows it also brought student disengagement, higher absenteeism, and teacher burnout. However, the study also noted the value of teachers as nearly 100 percent of the students surveyed said they felt supported by their teachers.

The study by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) at Vanderbilt University looked at six school districts. It found things like chronic absenteeism and withdrawal from public schools are on the rise in those districts.

At Millington Municipal Schools, leaders think they were able to avoid the worst of what this year brought.

“I think the study more than anything else proved that in-person learning is the best learning. So, it reaffirmed that again,” said Millington Municipal Schools Superintendent Bo Griffin.

The TERA study emphasized four key points in its report. Students felt supported by teachers but struggled with engagement and motivation with virtual learning, chronic absenteeism went up, especially among English learners and students of color, student enrollment in the youngest grades decreased, and withdraws increased. While teacher retention went up, educators reported concerns of burnout and increased responsibilities.

“It’s a gift. It’s truly a gift to be an educator. I think out society has a different perspective of our educators. I think there’s a new found respect for what our educators do,” said Griffin.

Even with a new found respect, 66 percent of teachers surveyed considered their increased workload during the 2020 fall semester a major concern.

At Millington Municipal Schools, students were on a hybrid schedule, but Friday was set aside for an all virtual day. Griffin said it gave teachers time to breathe and catch up.

“It made it a lot better for one-on-one connection, not just with themselves and collaborating, but with their students,” Griffin said.

The study showed chronic absenteeism increased, going from 12 to 18 percent among in-person learners and 27 percent in virtual learners.

Withdraws to non public schools in the districts rose 132 percent. Enrollment in kindergarten and pre-k dropped 12 percent and 24 percent respectively, though enrollment in other grades stayed the same or slightly increased.

Millington did not report increases in absenteeism and saw an enrollment increase. As did Lakeland School System, which sent WMC this statement:

“Our system opened for in-person instruction with a remote option on August 10th, and LSS was one of only nine districts in Tennessee that actually saw growth in enrollment this year. We did not have any of the attendance issues reported in the study, so these findings do not appear to reflect the experience of our schools in Lakeland School System. "

WMC reached out to all seven Shelby County schools to see if they were one of the districts involved in this study. Millington and Lakeland said no. We did not get a response from the other schools in regards to that question.

See fall semester trends below.

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