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Continued: A course in marketing

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 17, 2007 - 9:59 PM

At the Student Placement Center in St. Paul, Ann Nordby was filling out paperwork for her daughter, Caroline, and her son, Erik. They've lived in Hong Kong, California and, most recently, Dublin, Ireland. In St. Paul, they wanted a neighborhood where "we can walk to find a quart of milk" and a strong neighborhood school.

They picked St. Anthony Park Elementary after researching the district's website and the Department of Education site.

"If you put the information out there, people can make informed choices," Nordby said.

But it's not always easy

Sometimes, it takes more.

The Minneapolis schools advertise not just in local publications but also at the registers of Cub Foods stores. Staff members walk around town, putting leaflets on car windshields. In addition, the district is talking to leaders of the faith community about spreading the word about the district's schools.

It's all about bringing kids back, said Jackie Turner, director of recruitment and community relations.

"Because the more you drain a system, the fewer resources you have to work with," she said. "Ultimately, it's really about quality. And quality will drive enrollment."

Kent Pekel was point person for former St. Paul schools Superintendent Patricia Harvey on a project to revamp school choice to cut busing costs while increasing access to the city's most popular programs. The idea: Discontinue citywide busing for elementary students, rework some school boundaries and create three or four geographic zones for busing. Citywide busing for secondary schools would continue.

The report sits on a shelf, caught in transitional limbo between Harvey leaving and Carstarphen's arrival last year. The St. Paul school board has put off changing its current choice program until 2008-09.

"It's critical to redo the choice infrastructure," Pekel said. "But just doing that won't attract new families. You have to get to the core questions about how inviting your school is for families."

When Sharon Freeman became principal at Prosperity Heights Elementary, a St. Paul neighborhood school with no busing, enrollment was bleak. So the former executive with a marketing background walked into area businesses, met apartment-building managers and marched in neighborhood parades. Her message: We're a good school; we're your school.

In four years, enrollment rose from 250 to about 340.

"You always need to market," said Freeman, who now directs Adequate Yearly Progress and 4-year-old programs for the district. "It's called letting your customer know what you're doing."

James Walsh • 651-298-1541

James Walsh • jwalsh@startribune.com

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