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Spokane district hopes to increase, sustain enrollment

Wed., March 19, 2008

Slumped in a chair with his chin resting on the table in front of him, Parker Mason waited Tuesday for his mom to finish filling out the forms to officially make him a kindergartner at Hutton Elementary School next year.

The 5-year-old swung his legs, too short to reach the floor, as Stephanie Mason updated her son’s immunization forms and crammed essential information onto the registration sheet. The boy didn’t say a word until it was time to leave and the school staff gave him a bright-orange canvas bag full of goodies, including a ruler.

“It’s 5 inches,” Mason said of the foot-long ruler.

His excited reaction is just what district officials were hoping for.

After losing record numbers of students – more than 600 fewer students of all grades walked through the doors last fall than the previous year – Spokane Public Schools launched a marketing campaign this year to draw more families to its schools and boost readiness for kindergarten.

Some strategies include changing enrollment deadlines, like extending the registration period to the end of this school year for kindergartners and new first-graders.

The district also received donations from businesses to provide each new student with a canvas book bag with the district logo, a book called “The Kissing Hand” (about a young raccoon starting school), math games and other trinkets.

“We wanted every child to be really excited about school and get the families involved,” said Leslie Summers, marketing and events specialist.

By making the first contact with families a positive experience, school officials hope students will stay enrolled.

“We know that ensuring a quality relationship with parents begins on day one,” said Terren Roloff, community relations director. “The bags and activities, and more importantly the relationships we form, let parents and guardians know how important they are.”

District officials reported in October the unexpected drop in enrollment – meaning fewer state dollars for a school system that’s already cash-strapped.

The emphasis on registration is just one way the district will attempt to keep that trend from continuing in the coming years, Roloff said.

The district also hopes to gain some students with the announcement of additional full-day kindergarten programs in as many as eight schools. With funding from the state, the district implemented mandatory “all-day K” at five schools last fall.

The state has not yet announced which additional schools will receive the funding next year, said Stacy Loudermilk, manager of child care and early learning programs. Schools are selected by the state based on space availability and the percentage of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches, she said.

Kindergarten registration, which began Monday, will continue daily at all schools until the end of the school year. In the past, preregistration was offered for a few weeks each spring and then parents had to wait until August.

“We’re trying something new … doing a better job of working with parents and the community,” Loudermilk said. “When we looked at how we were doing registrations, we realized we could do a little more to be parent-friendly.”

She said the restrictions, including that parents try to get to neighborhood schools between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., were inconvenient for many families.

On Tuesday, Loudermilk and her staff were planning to meet with more than 70 families involved with pre-school programs at the Northeast Community Center to help them enroll children in kindergarten. The district has similar meetings set up with West Central neighborhood families.

“We are just trying to make sure families are happy they’ve chosen Spokane public schools,” Loudermilk said.

At Hutton, it appeared many families took advantage of the early registrations, and were happy with the new services. The school registered 36 students Monday, and several more were still trickling in Tuesday.

“We never had that many on the first day,” said Ruth Wiechman, office manager. “They were lined up out the door.”

The Mason family was surprised to find no line Tuesday.

“I just walked right in,” Stephanie Mason said.

As they left the building, Parker Mason carried his new book bag and held his fluorescent green ruler tight in his fist, pumping it over his head like a sword.

“Some of them are a little more excited than others,” Wiechman said.


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