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DC Public Schools start campaign to hang onto students

Students at Mason Crest Elementary start their first day of school, Annandale,VA, August 9, 2012
Students at Mason Crest Elementary start their first day of school, Annandale,VA, August 9, 2012

DC Public Schools has started an "aggressive" campaign to persuade parents whose children attend one of 15 schools being closed not to abandon the school system for charter or private schools.

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson has enlisted principals, teachers, parents and even students at the schools slated to receive students from closing schools to help recruit. Henderson said she hopes to keep 1,762 -- 80 percent -- of the 2,203 students at the closing schools and to increase the school system's overall enrollment by nearly 3 percent in the coming school year.

During the beginning stages of the effort, which began earlier this month, principals at closing and receiving schools are reaching out to parents, schools are offering tours and hosting open houses, and every letter or email sent home is supposed to contain "an encouraging message to re-enroll in DCPS." Starting next week, schools are scheduled to get new brochures and posters, as well as banners, T-shirts and buttons for principals and volunteers. Students will compete for the best two-minute recruitment video.

DCPS plans to reward schools that hang onto their students with "enrollment swag" and reward teachers who help with recruitment efforts.

"We seek to minimize the loss of students through the transition -- we want families to stay in DCPS," Henderson wrote in a letter to D.C. Councilman David Catania, who heads the council's Education Committee.

DCPS has been rapidly losing students to the District's public charter schools. Since the District closed 23 schools in 2008, enrollment at public charter schools has grown by 60 percent. This year, charter enrollment grew 10 percent to enroll 43 percent of the city's 80,230 students, while DCPS enrollment grew by less than 1 percent.

D.C. Council members and education experts have warned that more closings could be another reason for parents to move their kids to charters. And some parents say no marketing campaign or recruitment effort is going to change that.

"Honestly, [a marketing effort] should have been done before the schools were closed, not now," said Leslie Jones, whose sons are in prekindergarten and second grade at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School. When the school closes, Jones hopes to avoid sending her sons to Langdon Education Campus, the DCPS-chosen alternative. She has applied instead to two out-of-bounds DCPS schools and three charter schools.

"DCPS has proven to be very frustrating to deal with," Jones said. "I don't think that anybody should have to gamble with our children's education, which is basically what we've been forced to do."

For Joy Hicks, the latest round of closings marks the third time her daughter, a seventh-grade student at Shaw Middle School, has had to relocate. The changes have left Hicks feeling neglected.

"My trust level for DC Public Schools -- I just don't have any," she said. "They have no problem looking you right in the face and lying."