Two weeks before school starts, about 70 percent of expected Shelby County Schools students are registered. That’s double the share of students who were signed up at this time last year.
The announcement, made during a school board meeting Tuesday, was met with applause for a district that has struggled to get students on school rosters before the first bell rings. The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 6.
Joris Ray, an assistant superintendent, attributes the growth to doubling down on strategies that have contributed to gradual increases in recent years. The district this summer has sent school officials to register students at grocery stores, libraries, summer camps, the Memphis Zoo and community centers. It has even hosted block parties throughout the city.
The online registration window opened in March, two months earlier than last year.
Principals and other school staff are also calling families during the summer to determine if there are barriers to registering for school; such student-recruitment efforts have become a larger part of their job in recent years, as competition for students heats up between schools.
Since 2014, Shelby County Schools has lost some 34,000 students to six suburban school districts and 11,000 since 2012, when the the state-run Achievement School District started taking over low-performing Memphis schools.
“We’ve been trying to meet parents where they’re at,” Ray told Chalkbeat. “Our principals and teachers took ownership of registration.”
That brings the total number of students registered in the district’s nearly 150 schools to a little more than 62,000 out of a projected 87,500 students. Ray said about 32,000 students were signed up for school around this time last year. The year before, only about 30,000 had registered about two weeks before school began.
When parents register students close to the start of the school year — or in some cases weeks after school starts — the district has a hard time anticipating staffing needs. Late registration has been a chronic issue for many Memphis schools, especially since many low-income families within its boundaries move frequently.
And for every day a student misses school, that means less classroom instruction time. And for a district intent on increasing reading and math skills, especially among students from poor families, every day matters.
The district’s registration process went online in 2015 and Shelby County Schools has moved its registration window up to early May in an effort to encourage earlier signups. As a requirement for the district’s summer learning academy — started last year to help students retain information during their break and improve their reading and math skills — students must register for a district-run school for the following academic year.