One of the largest school districts in the St. Louis region has overestimated its enrollment growth and now has too many underutilized classrooms.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Hazelwood (Mo.) district built five new schools to prepare for a population surge that demographers predicted, but never happened.
Now, district administrators have resorted to something their counterparts in private schools do regularly — advertising and marketing to recruit students. The district is using a billboard obtained at a deeply discounted rate, as well as mailers, videos and social media to tout its strengths. Officials expect to run radio ads as well.
“We’re borrowing a page from the private sector,” says Kimberly McKenzie, Hazelwood’s director of communications. “Effective marketing is the lifeblood of private schools. Parents make conscientious decisions to send their kids to those schools. We need to ask ourselves: Why would a parent choose to send their student to us?”
District leaders blame the recession that started in 2008 for its excess classroom space. The economic collapse resulted in housing foreclosures and significant job losses at major employers in the district such as Boeing and Ford.
Hazelwood has capacity for 22,000 students, but the district has never been close to that. It had 19,369 students in 2007 and has hovered around 18,100 for the past several years. This year the number dipped to 17,889.
The district’s three high schools added eight Advanced Placement programs last year, and the district plans next year to convert a middle school into one for gifted students.
Officials also launched an accelerated program that enables eighth-graders to begin taking high school classes so they can graduate early or eventually earn a degree in a vocational program through St. Louis Community College.
An expanded early childhood program is also being designed with recruitment and retention in mind.
The district is opening two free, full-day prekindergarten classes in unused rooms at Walker Elementary. Officials plan to add classes at other grade schools this spring and next fall, with a goal of increasing preschool enrollment by 400.