After several years of steady decline, Shelby County Schools is continuing an upward trend in student enrollment.
About 111,600 students attend schools in Tennessee’s largest district, up about 2 percent from last year and higher than projected enrollment, according to district numbers.
That includes about 15,300 students enrolled in charter schools overseen by the local district, who now make up about 13.5 percent, a slight uptick from last year.
The increase could signal a growing trust in public school options in Memphis and that recruitment and early registration efforts are continuing to pay off. Last year was the first year the Memphis district gained students since six suburbs exited the district to create their own school systems with about 34,000 students.
However, enrollment in the state’s district for low-performing schools dipped for the second year in a row to 10,622 students. The Achievement School District, which mostly operates in Memphis, has lost about 2,000 students since 2016 as schools have closed and money for school improvement efforts has dropped off.
Note: The numbers are taken from each district’s attendance on the 20th day of school, which leaders use to determine any staffing adjustments to match a school’s student population.
Sharon Griffin, the Achievement School District’s chief, told Chalkbeat that she focused her efforts this semester on restarting the district’s relationship with the neighborhoods its serves, and that she is hopeful to see gains in enrollment throughout the year.
“Most of our schools have met their projected enrollment, but we have one or two elementaries that are struggling,” Griffin said. “Part of that is due to the fact that new charter schools and options that have opened up in neighborhoods we’re in, where there’s not enough kids in the neighborhood.”
Five charters schools opened this year as five others — a mix of district-run and charter schools — closed.
Notably, Shelby County Schools’ charter sector is growing faster than the district. The number of Memphis students attending charter schools overseen by the district increased 5.8 percent this year, while enrollment in district-run schools increased about 2 percent. Shelby County Schools did not provide a statement or an official for comment.
Nationally, the average charter school enrollment has increased from 1 to 6 percent of students between 2000 and 2015, according to federal data. That year, Tennessee charter schools enrolled 3 percent of students.
In response, the local district has looked to charter schools for recruitment strategies in an increasingly competitive environment. Over the summer, Shelby County Schools doubled down on recruitment and registration efforts by sending officials to grocery stores, libraries, summer camps, the Memphis Zoo and community centers — and has even hosted block parties throughout the city. The district also opened its online application two months earlier than last year to encourage parents to register sooner.
Those efforts resulted in 70 percent of expected students to register for school two weeks before school, which was double from the previous year.