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VOL. 7 | NO. 3 | Saturday, January 11, 2014

Schools’ Marketing Intensifies as Choices Grow

By Bill Dries

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January is a busy month on the school choice front in Shelby County. The state of Tennessee has an open-enrollment policy within school districts that allows students in low-performing schools to attend a different school.

A separate state policy permits interlocal agreements among local school districts for students to go from one district to another.

Neither policy provides for government funding of transportation costs – transportation is up to parents – and open enrollment is dependent on space available at a school once students living in the school’s attendance zone are accounted for. Both types of open enrollment are a familiar feature of public education in Memphis as the term open enrollment becomes part of “school choice.”

Colonial Middle School is among dozens of Shelby County Schools holding open houses this month as schools of all kinds start to market themselves more aggressively in an education system that offers more choices not only for parents and students, but for teachers as well.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The term isn’t just about policies within school districts or states, but about the movement of students among conventional public schools, charter schools, private schools and state-run schools. And the inclusion of open enrollment under that heading speaks to the competition that is already at play in a local education mix that is changing already because of competition among the existing mix of schools. It’s a competition for students and their parents as well as for teachers.

The charter school company Aspire Public Schools is holding a Jan. 14 open house to recruit kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers for the 2014-2015 school year.

The open house is at Hanley Elementary School, which Aspire operates as part of the state-run Achievement School District.

Aspire will operate Coleman Elementary School in Raleigh in the third school year of the Achievement School District.

“People are going to be competing for the best (teachers) to come work at their schools,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said in December when he announced the new schools in his district for the school year that begins in August. “And there’s going to be incentives and things to make that job attractive. It’s absolutely a different day in Memphis when it comes to being a teacher.”

For Shelby County Schools leaders, the competition for parents, students and teachers will mean a much more pronounced effort to come to market schools to parents as well as teachers.

“Right now our students and our teachers have more options than they’ve ever had before,” SCS board chairman Kevin Woods said at the close of 2013 as he talked of the need for better marketing.

The day before the Aspire open house, the group Friends of Peabody Elementary School will hold an open house at Christian Brothers University for the new optional school, which will open next school year at neighboring Fairview Middle School as part of Shelby County Schools. The development of the STEAM curriculum – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – at Fairview was one of the first plans launched by Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

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