Clipboard in hand, Tangela Blanks talks up the importance of registering early for school to families as they enter the Memphis Zoo on a “free Tuesday” this summer.
A few families pause to sign up but, on this hot afternoon, workers easily outnumber registrants at computer-lined registration tables under a shady overhang.
As with past years, it’s been a slow build across the summer to get Memphis students registered for Shelby County Schools before the Aug. 7 start of class.
With less than two weeks of summer break left, only about half of the anticipated 90,000 students have registered. That’s better than this time last year, when only about 30,000 had signed up. And it’s despite a two-week July shutdown of the district’s online registration system for scheduled maintenance. But the total still lags as Tennessee’s largest district tries to anticipate staffing needs without solid numbers to work with.
Late school registration is a chronic issue for public schools in Memphis, where poverty and a high rate of student mobility are among the challenges. Many parents bring their children to school days and even weeks after classes begin.
The district has aggressively sought to accelerate the process by providing online registration since 2015 and holding a slew of out-in-the-community events at libraries, museums, community centers and festivals — anywhere where families will show up.
“We realize that oftentimes during the summer, registration is not on a parent’s mind, so we want to be visible and meet parents where they are,” said Angela Hargrave, who oversees attendance for the district. “We can be there to say, ‘Can we help you register? Have you gotten your child ready for school?’ It’s a good way to reach out to the community and provide information.”
Blanks said most families that she’s signed up are excited about the convenience and guidance. “Most of them have a lot of things going on,” she said. “Many are in the transition of moving, and this makes the transition smoother.”
Shelby County Schools has been shrinking gradually since the historic merger of city and county schools in 2013. The city’s education landscape has become increasingly splintered, including charter expansion under the state-run Achievement School District and the exodus of students to suburban school systems that broke off from the Memphis-headquartered district in 2014.
Last year’s enrollment was under 92,000 students for traditional schools and another 13,000 at 45 district-authorized charter schools.
While charter schools conduct their own registration drives, district leaders are confident that traditional registration will pick up in the final days of summer break. Last week alone, 5,000 parents registered. Next week, a Back 2 School Block Party is planned for Aug. 5 at the central office, complete with free food, games, immunizations and health screenings.
Getting physicals and the proper immunizations are among the biggest challenges to timely registration.
The district has partnered with community health agencies to bring on-site immunizations and health clinics to families.
Registrants also need a district-provided code and password to log on to the registration site.
Below is a district-produced promotional video about the importance of early registration.