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Birdville schools put out welcome sign to all students

A public school district has become the first in Tarrant County to hang out an unusual sign:

“Yes We’re Open.”

Any kid from anywhere can now enroll in the Birdville schools, which are mostly in North Richland Hills and Haltom City.

Yes, even from miles away.

And yes, tuition is free.

In an ingenious marketing move to promote successful schools and fill empty desks, Birdville has swung school doors wide to welcome all students.

Admissions opened May 23.

So far, 80 students have quit private or public schools and signed up for Birdville.

Every one who enrolls brings another $5,000 in state money to the district’s budget.

Unlike other districts that run recruiting campaigns for special magnet schools, Birdville has unleashed a full advertising campaign.

The district Web page announces: “Now Open to All Students.”

An ad shows a jigsaw puzzle and says transfer students are “our missing piece.” District officials plan to campaign at workplaces and promote the quality of Birdville schools, administrator Rick Kemp said.

A few Texas schools have experimented with wide-open enrollment since 1993, when the Ysleta district near El Paso began luring students away from city schools. More than 3,000 students switched, and ratings improved.

So far, Birdville’s transfers come from unexpected directions.

A few students switched from Fort Worth public schools in the Oakhurst or Riverside neighborhoods. But of the 80 transfers so far, 48 quit $8,000-a-year private schools.

Keller public schools have lost 15 students. Parents prefer Birdville’s full-day kindergarten and the closer Green Valley Elementary in North Richland Hills, Kemp said.

“The results have been completely upside down from what we expected,” Kemp said, a former public and private school principal who has become the Birdville admissions officer.

When Superintendent Stephen Waddell suggested the plan — a success at his last stop near Corpus Christi — officials expected students switching for academics.

But so far, students are transferring to save tuition money, or gas money for parents commuting near North Richland Hills or Haltom City.

“Historically, kids went to the neighborhood school,” Kemp said. “We’re breaking the mold.”

More parents want a school near work, so they can spend more time with kids on the way to work and home.

Birdville communications director Mark Thomas designed the clever campaign and will pitch new ads to parents who work in north Fort Worth.

Birdville needs students for a simple reason: It’s aging.

Birdville has a 150-year legacy of education in a community named for pioneer Jonathan Bird. Enrollment peaked in 2002 as the suburbs reached build-out.

The transfers help the district bank more state money and fill extra desks, Kemp said.

This might open more doors.