Madison West High School
DCPS certified Wilson’s 2018-19 enrollment at 1,796 students, a figure that differs from the number of active student schedules currently in the DCPS student information system Aspen: 1,806. Wilson’s DCPS-certified enrollment is significantly lower than the 1,960 student schedules in Aspen at the beginning of the year and DCPS’ initial 2018-19 projection for Wilson of 1,845 students.
An accurate audit of the student population determines Wilson’s budget for the upcoming school year. If students’ forms aren’t in order, Wilson won’t receive money for them. The number of teachers and other resources allocated to the school depends on the number of certified students in attendance. Coming in under projection risks losing funding, but this seems unlikely given the certified number is only slightly smaller. “It isn’t considered a tremendous amount of money or a tremendous amount under our projection,” said Principal Kimberly Martin.
The number of schedules in Aspen is a metric to see how many students are actively attending classes, but this is an imperfect system for calculating population. Every single eighth grader in DCPS is automatically registered at their feeder high school, even if they tell their middle school they plan on continuing their education elsewhere. This means that there’s a large cohort of students who are registered, who never show up, and the onus is on Wilson to verify their withdrawal.
As is the case this year, the certified number is usually lower than the number of active schedules in Aspen. “If it were opposite, then that’d be fraud, I’d probably go to jail. If I produce paperwork for 1,900 students and there’s only 1,800, what would I be doing with the extra money?” Martin said. “We wish [the numbers] were the same, that we got funded for every student, but it doesn’t always go that way.” There are a variety of reasons that a few students each year cannot confirm their residency in the district, but Martin declined to explain the details to protect those students’ status at Wilson.
The Strategy and Logistics team is responsible for certifying the enrollment forms of as many students as possible in advance of the official DCPS audit, which usually occurs before the winter holidays. On the day of the audit, officials come to Wilson and examine each individual student’s registration package. Schools are given an additional window of time to secure additional documents for packages deemed incomplete. This period is extremely hectic for the team, which includes Registrar Tasha Maritano, Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall, and Assistant of Strategy and Logistics Cynthia McFarlin, among others.
“It’s a nightmare and completely crazy for us,” said Maritano, who has been coordinating the audit at Wilson for 25 years. Maritano explained that the difficulties are compounded by Wilson’s size and DCPS’ focus on data, but arise mostly as a result of constantly changing policies. “With people coming and going so often, once policies are set and then next thing you know policies are taken away, things don’t work necessarily the way we want them to work,” she said.
One such change was quite dramatic. In recent years, DCPS switched strategies completely, from a warm body count, where students were counted physically in their classrooms, to the current system. The warm body count proved challenging because if a student was absent, the school would have to submit a packet of graded work to get them added to the certified number. “I like this system better. It holds us accountable for collection,” Martin said.