- Enrollment has increased in the Shelby County Schools (TN) for the first time since Shelby County merged with Memphis schools and six suburban towns split off into their own district, Chalkbeat reports.
- A state-run turnaround district in Memphis led to further reductions in enrollment, but now Shelby schools have seen a slight increase of 2,000 students this year.
- District leaders attribute the increase, which has resulted in an additional $7.6 million in state funding, to deliberate efforts to recruit students and communicate what schools have to offer.
Declining enrollment is a very difficult trend to reverse, but the Shelby County district’s numbers so far this year point to some efforts that can serve as an example to other districts hoping to lure back students or stop families from leaving. The district implemented a campaign called “Retain, Recruit and Reclaim,” in which they spent $150,000 to train principals how to market and promote their own schools. The district also ran a summer learning program which led to more students choosing district schools.
In districts where more school choice is available, school leaders are finding that they have to increase efforts to show parents the benefits that their schools can provide, whether its additional learning opportunities, extracurricular activities or more up-to-date technology. Earlier this year, Arun Ramanathan, the CEO of Pivot Learning, an Oakland, CA, consulting organization, wrote in Education Next that administrators should find out what parents want and try to offer those features in their schools. And he recommended ignoring debates surrounding school choice and charters and instead focusing on competing with them. Recent polls have shown that parents are interested in much more than a school’s test scores. Some educators also stress that providing some "common courtesy" and improving relationships with families through a customer service approach can improve parents’ perceptions of their child’s school.