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District employee Brandon Pinson works with Samantha Parks at an online registration event last summer.

District employee Brandon Pinson works with Samantha Parks at an online registration event last summer.

Caroline Bauman

Shelby County Schools asks parents to register early online, but most wait

Shelby County Schools opened registration earlier than ever this year, in an attempt to get a clearer picture of where students will be enrolled this fall. But so far, parents haven’t signed up in droves.

It’s year two of Shelby County Schools’ move to all-online registration for students, and the biggest switch is that the district opened up the floodgates much earlier for parents to start enrolling their kids online. And the gates are staying open.

Though parents could start the sign-up process before school let out for summer, it’s been a bit slow-going, said district spokeswoman Kristen Tallent. “(This) is typical when something changes,” she added.

As of mid-June, about 34,000 students, or about a third of expected students, were signed up for classes, Tallent said. The district is estimating it will have around 104,000 students enrolled for the upcoming school year, compared to 109,000 students during 2015-16.

An early enrollment period began in April, where current students could re-enroll (even promoting the initiative with a fun video). Both current and future students could sign up starting in May, and registration will stay open all summer. Last year, registration launched in mid-July.

By starting the enrollment process early and keeping it open, district officials hope it will afford a quicker and more accurate estimate of students. Getting these estimates wrong can have big ripple effects, such as in 2014, when missed enrollment projections caused teacher lay-offs.

Recent school closures are a main reason the district decided to keep the online system open throughout the summer, said Angela Hargrave, director of attendance and discipline for the district. Shelby County Schools board members voted this month to close Carver High and Northside High for the upcoming school year.

“We wanted to make sure parents have opportunity to request transfers for their kids, to have choices,” Hargrave said. “It causes anxiety for parents who don’t know where their students will be, and we wanted to eliminate the wait.”

The district also has to make sure those those without Internet at home, or 32 percent of Memphians, are able to enroll their students. Memphis has one of the worst rates in the nation for Internet access at home, according to the 2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey.

The Parent Welcome Center (2687 Avery Ave.) and Northeast Regional Office (920 N. Highland St.) are open during business hours to help with the online process and also offer English language support. District offices at 2800 Grays Creek in Arlington are also open.

July 25 will be the start of the next big push to get parents to register, Hargrave said, and there will be set times where all schools will be open for parents to walk in and use district computers to sign their kids up. Registration will run through Aug. 5, with the first day of school kicking off three days later.