Meeting the Challenges
and Creating Innovative Solutions
By Jeannette Morris, Free and Reduced Supervisor
The Gwinnett County Public Schools System is the largest school district in the state of Georgia. Our student enrollment is 178, 218.
There are 97,307 students who participate in the Free and Reduced Program. The large volume of participants has forced Gwinnett County Public Schools to confront unique challenges. Each year, however, our school district follows successfully the USDA regulations for Verification. In fact, for the last seven years, we have maintained a non-response rate below 20%.
Our success, in part, is due to the identification of five major challenges and the implementation of innovative solutions to meet them. These challenges include:
- Managing Selected Application Volume
Our weekly team meetings provide us an opportunity to review USDA guidelines and internal checklists.
To ensure successful documentation of selected applications, we export from our Free and Reduced software into an Excel spreadsheet the student’s information. Next, we import this data into Word to create labels for each folder, letter and envelope. Next, we setup file drawers in numerical order. For a quick reference, we maintain a binder with a copy of the Excel spreadsheet with the student’s information. Finally, the letters are matched and the envelopes counted – prior to mailing.
- Improving Response Time
On the 10th day, staff contact parents by telephone. If no answer, we leave a brief message explaining the importance of our call. Additionally, staff work schedules are changed to provide telephone coverage early morning and late afternoon. This assist us in reaching some parents prior to their leaving home for work or when they first return home from work.
On the 11th day, we send an Adverse Letter by mail or email. The Adverse Letter provides the parents with an opportunity to say “Yes” they will provide proof income. Or “No” they do not wish for their income to be verified.
- Tracking Returned Notification Letters and Undeliverable Emails
Staff utilize the school’s district Student Information Database system to find different addresses, telephone contact and/or emails that are not listed on the Free and Reduced application form.
- Partial Documentation
In these cases, we contact parents by phone or email to provide specific details regarding what items are missing (e.g. proof of income for spouse). Staff emphasizes the deadline and that the documentation can be mailed, faxed or scanned and emailed.
- Communication with Speakers of Limited English
In our district office, we have a staff member who speaks Spanish and works successfully with parents to send the required documentation. Additionally, we have the option of requesting, from another district department assistance for translating or interpreting in other languages (e.g. Russian, Korean).
Throughout the years, our district has found many challenges in handling verification. Yet, our team has viewed each challenge as an opportunity to develop innovative solutions. The combination of attitude, teamwork and collaboration has contributed to our successfully meeting the challenges of verification.