ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Door-to-door pitches might come from a political campaign or a religious group. Well, in Austin, Texas, the folks knocking on doors include representatives from the public schools. Like many places, the Austin Independent School District saw a jump in unenrollments last year during the pandemic, about 5,000 students. So folks there are knocking on doors to talk to parents about registering their children for in-person school this fall. Alejandro Delgado is enrollment director for the Austin Independent School District in Texas. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ALEJANDRO DELGADO: Thank you for having me, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So tell us about this door-to-door campaign. How does it work exactly?
DELGADO: So since April, we have galvanized our staff from across the city and community volunteers - and we're really fortunate - to essentially - you know, we have a list of students who didn't show up to our schools this past year, you know, from pre-K to 12th. And like you said, a political campaign - we have their names. We have their home language. We have their addresses. And we knock on doors, literally door to door, apartment to apartment, street to street. And we've hit a lot of our homes across town. Every group has a Spanish-speaker and has access in real time to our, you know, interpreters. And what we tell them is, hey, I'm with Austin Independent School District. We've missed you, and we'd love to have you back for the next school year.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell if it's working?
DELGADO: We are making progress in terms of reminding families that, as a school district, we care about them and we love them and we're excited to have them back. I think that, you know, a lot of parents have moved. You know, you're seeing some of the real-time effects of the pandemic. You're seeing also the real-time effects of affordability here in Austin. And so a lot of families who we visit, we thought we were there and - don't live there anymore.
So I would say, generally speaking, just for awareness' sakes, it is successful. And, you know, just this past weekend, we were in East Austin. And we had a lot of families like, yeah. I mean, of course I'm going to show up. I'm excited you came. And so I would say generally successful, but, you know, we still have a lot of room to improve.
SHAPIRO: What's the most common concern that you hear from parents? What's the most common reason people give for their students unenrolling?
DELGADO: There's a lot of uncertainties. Over the past year and a half, since March 2020 - you know, if you talk to a pre-K parent - but, you know, they didn't like Zoom or, you know, multigenerational households and, you know, fear of the pandemic. And then if you have high school students, they're working. You know, they found jobs. But I think generally speaking, what we're hearing is, one, concern, but, two, just ready to get back to normal, ready to get back to school in person. You know, it's been a little bit disconcerting over the past couple weeks with the delta variant and the rise of it here in Austin, so, you know, that's something we heard this past weekend.
SHAPIRO: The state of Texas is not providing funding for remote learning. And the state's banned mask mandates in public schools. Does that come up in the conversations that you're having?
DELGADO: It absolutely does, Ari. And, you know, we're continuing a lot of the same protocols from encourage - strongly, strongly encouraging masks to, you know, 3-feet of distance in our classrooms where feasible. And what I'm happy to report is, you know, given the leadership of our superintendent and our board of trustees, they actually made the decision yesterday to offer a virtual option for basically kinder- through sixth-graders.
SHAPIRO: Even without state funding.
DELGADO: That's right. I mean, we are basically telling our families, we care about you. We care about your education. And therefore, we're going to take the financial hit to keep you as part of our family.
SHAPIRO: That's Alejandro Delgado, enrollment director for the Austin Independent School District in Texas. Thank you so much.
DELGADO: Thank you, Ari.
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