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Shelby County Schools moves to online registration

Allen Thornton and his daughter, Sharonda, wait Wednesday outside of Ridgeway High School, where long lines of parents form for summer school registration.
Allen Thornton and his daughter, Sharonda, wait Wednesday outside of Ridgeway High School, where long lines of parents form for summer school registration.
Caroline Bauman

Allen Thornton stood outside of Ridgeway High School Wednesday afternoon and gestured to the gathering crowd of frustrated parents trying to register their students for summer courses. Registration day has always been exhausting, he said.

Thornton and his daughter, Sharonda Gill, had arrived at Ridgeway two hours earlier to try to register for a summer class she needs before entering the 12th grade. He said school administrators turned them away a day earlier due to the long lines, forcing him to take off work for a second day.

“It’s crazy that they make us come up here every time to register our kids, whether it’s for summer school or regular school,” Thornton said. “It’s a terrible burden on the parents, and a new system is long overdue.”

Amid the frustration, district officials hope a new online registration system will improve the process in the future.

Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, parents will have the option to fully register their students by computer. Shelby County Schools started an online pre-registration in 2013, but parents still were required to visit the school on registration day to finish paperwork.

With the change, parents of the district’s current students will be able to complete the registration process without stepping foot in a school building. The goal is to create a paperless system and avoid the long lines of registration day, as well as to help the district be fully staffed when school begins, said Angela Hargrave, the district’s director of attendance and discipline.

“There’s no longer a need to have parents wait in long lines to fill out 25 sheets of paper about their student,” Hargrave said. “And only having one registration day puts lots of pressure on parents if it doesn’t fit with their work schedule.”

Parents of new and transfer students will be able to register online, but will need to come to the school in person to show proof of residence.

The online registration period will run from July 13 through Aug. 4, and district officials soon will announce the schedule for registering in person or showing proof of residence, Hargrave said.

Though the new system will make registration easier for some parents, it poses unique challenges for those without easy access to the Internet or without computer skills.

More than 32 percent of Memphians do not have Internet access at home, one of the worst rates in the nation, according to the 2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey.

Cicely Thomas, another parent standing in line at Ridgeway High, said she wouldn’t mind going to the public library to register her kids, as she doesn’t have Internet access at home.

“Half the city can’t even afford Internet, so it’s hard for me to believe this will make it easier for everyone,” Thomas said. “This is good for someone with Internet or a ride to the library, but you’ve got to think about everyone, not just one kind of person.”

Hargrave said the district will partner with libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations such as Latino Memphis, a local advocacy group for the city’s Hispanic community, to offer computer access and to assist parents in the process. District officials will announce locations and dates closer to the registration period.

The all-online process should help the district be more accurate in its enrollment estimates, Hargrave said.

Last school year, district officials overestimated how many students would enroll by about 4,000, resulting in cuts to its teaching staff. Because public schools receive most of their funding based on enrollment, accuracy is critical to planning for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 10.

“We set the registration period to close Aug. 4 to give us a week before schools starts,” Hargrave said. “We’re going to use that time to see who we have and make adjustments.”

District officials sent online registration notices home with students before summer started to inform parents of the change. Information also will be available on the district’s website, and technical support will be available during work hours.

Parents of the district’s current students will receive a “snapcode” in early July for logging in. Hargrave emphasized that the district needs parents’ correct contact information to provide them with their snapcodes in time for registration.

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