Several hundred Baltimore parents are enrolling their children in city schools after teachers knocked on 34,000 doors in targeted neighborhoods and urged them to do so, according to new enrollment data.
The increased enrollments were part of a five-week outreach campaign to reverse declining enrollment and school funding by convincing parents to give the city public school system a try.
At least 329 new pre-kindergarteners will arrive in the schools this fall and 17 dropouts are returning. The numbers represent a start toward the goal of stemming the loss of thousands of students in recent years due to dropouts, transfers and parents simply not enrolling young children.
About 1,000 students dropped out or transferred to other school districts last year. The loss of students contributed to a $130 million budget shortfall this year and the first teacher layoffs in a decade.
“I am very happy we have re-engaged students,” said Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English.
She believes the campaign will work better than previous attempts to attract new students because teachers and teachers aides are reaching out to parents individually.
“This is one-on-one personal conversations,” she said.
Just how many students will be signed up because of those 6,127 conversations is unclear. Teachers left enrollment materials with interested parents, but parents must take documents to a school and fill out paperwork there to enroll a child. School officials said 115 more students have been signed up for pre-kindergarten in the targeted neighborhoods than elsewhere in the city. With just over a month left before the new school year starts on September 5th, many new students could yet be signed up.
The Bring Back Baltimore One Student at a Time campaign hired 40 teachers and teachers aides to walk city streets and knock on doors five days a week with the goal of enrolling 1,000 new students. The campaign ends this week but English said she wants to find a way to continue the collaboration between the union, city school officials and the city government.
“This was not just a summer program, but a long-term commitment,” said Loretta Johnson, secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.
District administrators have also been trying to entice parents to visit city schools this summer with events called Popsicles with Principals, which offer neighborhood residents a chance to talk to a principal while sharing ice cream.
English said a summer of increased street violence in some neighborhoods has been challenging for the campaign. Many doors went unanswered, perhaps because of people’s reluctance to open their doors to strangers. The $200,000 recruitment effort was largely funded by the American Federation of Teachers, the national union that represents city teachers. The city and school district covered 20 percent of the costs.
Union officials said the effort already has paid off with $2.3 million in state and federal funding that will come to the schools as a result of the new students.
The system’s enrollment now stands at 82,350, less than half of what it was at its peak in the late 1960s.