Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely

The days of parents having to trudge over to Kyrene School District’s Tempe headquarters to register a new child are over as the district prepares to launch a new tool in its competition for enrollment.

Next Monday, Jan. 7, Kyrene will launch online registration at its website, Kyrene.org.

In addition, parents of children entering middle school will be able to go online and work together to select electives and choose which of the district’s three middle school programs – International Baccalaureate, AVID and Leader in Me (https://www.leaderinme.org/) – might be the most suitable.

The online registration for new students gives the parents the flexibility of other interactive websites, Superintendent Jan Vesely said.

Parents who work or can’t conveniently make it to the district’s headquarters can now register their child at their convenience, not Kyrene’s.

“They can upload all the paperwork and fill our all the forms whenever they want. They can do it at midnight,” said district spokeswoman Erin Helm.

Additionally, the move to online registration also ensures continually updated information, including emergency contacts.

For middle school students and their parents, the information online about electives is particularly liberating.

“Parents now have a much better idea of what we offer,” Vesely said. “They can sit down with their child and look at all the elective choices and actually register. In the past, middle school elective offerings were mostly driven by what the teacher decided was best for them instead of what the kids are interested in whether it’s Mandarin Chinese or robotics or something else.”

In addition to the online registration and other information now available on Kyrene’s website, the district also has sharpened its communications program to accomplish three primary missions.

One mission is to keep parents more continually in the loop about their child as well as special programs they may be interested in.

In a presentation to the school board on Dec. 11, Helm detailed the district’s communications strategy and initiative.

She explained how Kyrene’s switch to a new messenger system that eliminates opt-in emails will produce a more “inclusive culture because we need to be able to engage all of our parents, not just those that are dialed in enough to know where you can go to sign up for emails.”

The second mission involves communicating via social media news that business owners, community leaders and other stakeholders in the district might want to know regardless of whether they have children attending district schools.

The third mission involves advertising the district in an effort to increase enrollment.

A particularly aggressive advertising campaign is focused on parents of preschool children not only to make parents aware of Kyrene’s alternative to privately run preschool programs but also to get them into the district at an early age with the hopes they’ll stay right through eighth grade.

Competition for students is fierce among public school districts and public charters since much of the state funding they receive is tied to the number of bodies in classrooms.

And for Kyrene, enrollment is as much tied to the demographics of Ahwatukee, Chandler and Tempe as it is to school choice.

Kyrene took a hit during the Great Recession in 2008, with that year’s first grade and kindergarten dropping by about 200 students from what it typically was seeing coming into the district.

That class has now matriculated through Kyrene’s schools and is entering Tempe Union High School District.

Vesely said she told Tempe Union Superintendent Kevin Mendivil to expect 200 fewer students than what the district had been seeing. Mendivil doubted her prediction, she said, until enrollment figures for the 2018-19 school year were available.

“Sure enough, they were down about 200 students,” Vesely said.

While Kyrene’s demographer had predicted the district would experience a 1 percent decline in student population this year, the district got a pleasant surprise: enrollment stayed flat.

Still, it’s a constant battle made more difficult by the shortage of affordable housing that dissuades families with young children from moving into the district. Moreover, the aging population, particularly in Ahwatukee, means that houses don’t turn over as quickly, further reducing the chances of many new youngsters moving into the district.

That’s why targeting the few new families moving into the district as well as young families who live elsewhere is important to future enrollment, Vesely said.

District officials hope to persuade them to enroll in Kyrene by touting attributes such as the district’s academic programs and choices as well as its schools’ high ratings in performance measures.

“Kyrene School District expanded its preschool programs to all elementary schools and ‘Get them early and keep them’ is an excellent strategy if it is marketed,” she said.

While “Kyrene has always advertised preschool,” Helm added, more needs to be done to tell that to the world.

“We know we have exceptional preschool programs in Kyrene,” Helm said. “But we can clearly do a better job of making sure that our community knows it.”

“I believe that if our preschool marketing is specific to preschool, targeted to preschool families, well-timed to preschool enrollment and widespread, then word of mouth will follow and word of mouth is where we want to get to,” she added.

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