By: Emily Morrison, Chief Advancement Officer, Austin Achieve Public Schools & Priscilla De La Torre, Family and Community Engagement Associate, Austin Achieve Public Schools
Over the past few months, schools transformed before our eyes. We had to quickly stabilize and evolve to support our school community as living rooms, dining room tables, bedrooms, and backyards quickly became classrooms.
At Austin Achieve Public Schools–a tuition-free, open enrollment public charter school–we prepare East Austin youth to attend and excel at top universities. Overnight, we shifted from an in-person classroom environment to a completely digital learning environment for nearly 2,000 students. This sudden change created a new set of challenges–implementing remote learning in a matter of days, virtualizing school operations, keeping families supported and engaged, and combating food insecurity–for our educators and staff to overcome.
Virtualizing Enrollment to Prepare for the Future
In addition to educating our existing scholars, the spring semester is when we traditionally enroll new families for the following school year. We typically hold in-person enrollment events, allowing for one-on-one face time with families so they can get to know our staff, our values, and evaluate the best educational fit for their child. Families also complete a streamlined, computer-based enrollment process built on the Salesforce platform that helps our staff deeply engage each applicant and equip them with as much information as possible.
We’ve spent the past few years iterating and implementing this hybrid approach to new family engagement, incorporating the right balance of highly effective data management and human connection. When COVID-19 hit, we had to go back to the drawing board and evolve our processes to work in a completely virtual world–similar to what our teachers did with classroom instruction.
With Salesforce in place to fit the needs of our Family and Community Engagement Team, we quickly pivoted to expand the platform functionality. Over 200 families were scheduled to come in for registration–a key step to ensuring our classrooms are set up for success this upcoming school year. Instead, we developed and launched an entirely virtual enrollment process within one week to best support these families.
The registration process in the state of Texas is complex and requires parents to answer over 70 questions and submit several documents. We knew the rate of error would be extremely high if we asked parents to complete registration by following an online link. With our new approach in place, we digitally transformed our traditional, in-person system by updating several fields to allow for online verification, generating e-signatures, and updating our document management processes. We then quickly trained our registration team to conduct one-on-one meetings by phone or video conference so that parents could have the next best substitute for in-person registration. To better engage with parents, we activated a series of call campaigns to reschedule all of our registration. And we’ve seen some immediate results–including a 57% increase in the number of completed registrations compared to last year–while ensuring we’re engaging with parents in a manner that’s safe for everyone. Today, we utilize a comprehensive dashboard to track outstanding registrations, appointments, and follow-up.
“We have felt so connected and supported even while apart. I am beyond grateful that we are part of the AAPS family during all of this.” – Megan, Austin Achieve Elementary School Parent
Supporting Scholars and Families When They Need it Most
We’re also working hard to combat food insecurity in the community during these uncertain times. Over 96% of our scholars receive free and reduced-price lunch, and one of our top priorities is to ensure that we can continue to provide this service to families during school closures.
We’re using the platform to continuously survey families and community members to understand their needs. Leveraging the data, we build contactless home delivery routes for families and individuals experiencing transportation challenges. Finally, we utilize reports and dashboards to track the effectiveness of the delivery system so we can consistently evolve our support. We’re proud to have served over 265,000 meals to date, and we plan to continue this service throughout the duration of school closures.
Being able to quickly evolve our processes to support our scholars, families, and the greater Austin community has been an invaluable benefit during these unprecedented times. If there’s one thing the crisis has shown us is that anything is possible when you put students and families first. We’re looking forward to emerging from this crisis stronger than before and continuing to support our mission, preparing our students to succeed in college and beyond.
To learn more about how K-12 leaders are supporting their students and school communities, register for Higher Ed Summit Virtual on June 9.
About the Authors
Emily Morrison, Chief Advancement Officer
As a founding member of Austin Achieve Public Schools, Emily works with public, private, and educational partners to promote the mission and vision of the charter school district. She oversees financing efforts and the Student Recruitment, Development, and Marketing & Communications departments.
Priscilla De La Torre, Family and Community Engagement Associate
Priscilla De La Torre is the Family and Community Engagement Associate at Austin Achieve Public Schools. From a very young age, she aspired to help people in any way she could. She’s found her true calling at Austin Achieve where she supports and deeply engages with families from all walks of life.