Oliver reports largest incoming class of kindergartners in several years.

In the wake of teachers, staff, administrators and others attempting recently to make phone calls to the families of the more than 100 students who open enroll to other school districts, the vast majority to the Fisher School – to ask them why they open enroll and what Crookston schools could do to bring them back – Superintendent Chris Bates at Monday's Crookston School Board meeting said he believes "we need to tell our story better about the good, positive things that we have going on here."

Bates offered his thoughts on the telephone calls after Board Chair Frank Fee wondered if it would be possible to respond to all of the reasons listed by the families who open enroll, and then send those responses to every resident of the Crookston School District. That might be worth doing, Bates said, but he stressed that there wasn't a single, alarming or red-flag raising trend that emerged in the responses from the families. The most popular response, he noted, which was offered by 20 percent of the families who were successfully contacted during the phone sweep, was that they live closer to Fisher or work closer to Fisher.

"I don't know if we can change that," Bates said. "If we would have heard one answer a hundred times that this is our problem, clearly we'd be jumping on it and saying we'd better fix it.

"But trust that we are lending credence to these answers and trying to do some things," he continued. "We're not just saying, 'Oh, well...'"

Although the Crookston district has a net loss of more than 100 students each school day, when students who open enroll into Crookston are compared to students who open enroll from Crookston to elsewhere, Monday's discussion took place amid a bit of good news: Washington School Principal Denice Oliver reported the largest incoming class of kindergartners in several years, totaling 112, which includes four kindergartners who are repeating kindergarten this year instead of moving onto first grade. "But that's 108 new kindergartners, more than we've had for a few years," Oliver said.

Lela Olson and Jason Vold, principals at Highland School and Crookston High School, respectively, each reported that when students return next week for the start of the 2013-14 school year, both buildings' enrollments will be steady compared to last year.

More on calls
Bates said Crookston isn't alone when it comes to facing enrollment competition from another district a few miles down the highway. Another Minnesota district called him Monday, he said, wondering what kinds of questions were asked of the open enrolling families during the phone sweep, "because they have three districts very close by and want to get some answers, too," Bates said.

Bates did mention a couple specific call responses that piqued his interest:
• "Someone said Fisher has higher academic standards, and maybe they do, but is that because it's 94 percent for an 'A' there and 90 percent for an 'A' here?" he said. "Sometimes I think people get hung up on numbers, but beyond the numbers there are different ways that schools do things."

• Smaller class sizes in Fisher were also mentioned, Bates said. But he wondered if those posing the questions and those offering the answers were on the same page. "If we have 20 in a classroom we think it's good, but someone mentioned graduating classes, so you have graduating class of 23 total over there. I'd think five rooms with 20 students is better than one room with 23."

Simply put, Bates said, it comes down to marketing the Crookston district more accurately, enthusiastically and aggressively. "Our language programs, our music programs, our industrial tech programs...I'm not sure if we beat our own drum enough or toot our own horn enough as a district," he said. "There are many good things here, but how do we get the word out better on them? We have to sell ourselves to the public and I don't know if we've done that. We're trying to figure out what it is our customers want."