The 2 percent enrollment decline the Pittsburgh Public Schools reported yesterday was one of the lowest drops in a decade, a moderation attributed partly to enthusiasm for the Pittsburgh Promise and stepped-up recruitment of kindergarten students.
The district's official enrollment for the 2009-10 school year is 26,123, down 526 students from 2008-09.
Percentage-wise, the drop was the smallest in six years. From the 2002-03 to 2003-04 school years, enrollment fell 1.5 percent, from 35,147 students to 34,619.
In absolute numbers, the loss of 526 students was the smallest decline in nine years. The district had 38,846 students in 1999-00 and 38,560 in 2000-01, a loss of 286 students.
In fall 1997, the district had 40,181 students.
It has long struggled with poor academics and finances, an image problem and competition from suburban and charter schools. In a particularly dark period, from 2001-02 to 2002-03, enrollment fell by about 6.6 percent, or 2,465 students.
Included in this school year's official count, taken Oct. 6, were 91 students the district later removed from its rolls for failing to comply with new county vaccination requirements. If the students come into compliance, the district will enroll them again.
The annual count, which must be reported to the state, covers students in kindergarten though 12th grade. Pre-kindergarten students aren't included.
This is the first time that Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, hired in August 2005 to turn around the district's academics and finances, has had an enrollment drop of less than 4 percent. From 2007-08 to 2008-09, enrollment fell by 5.7 percent or 1,616 students.
Officials yesterday stopped short of saying they had turned the corner on enrollment decline. But they said they believed that Mr. Roosevelt's improvement initiatives, the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and stepped-up marketing efforts were yielding progress.
"I'm very comfortable saying, in part, the Promise has played into this," said Saleem Ghubril, Promise executive director.
Mr. Roosevelt and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl created the Promise not only to help students afford college, but to boost the city's population and shore up the district's enrollment. Graduates of city high schools and charter schools are eligible for up to $20,000 in scholarships, provided they meet certain enrollment, academic and behavioral guidelines.
In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise -- a model for Pittsburgh's program -- has been credited with helping to boost enrollment 15 percent in the Kalamazoo Public Schools since starting in November 2005.
In a report on the Pittsburgh Promise last summer, Mr. Ghubril cited a harbinger of improvement in Pittsburgh. Only 86 students left the district between September and February last school year, he said, compared to an average loss of about 600 students during the same period in each of the previous five school years.
Mr. Roosevelt said he has sensed increased public confidence in his improvement efforts -- which have included new schools, new curricula and principal training -- and believes that's helping to stabilize enrollment. He also cited efforts to be more welcoming to parents who visit schools.
The number of kindergarten students increased from 2,104 in 2008-09 to 2,143 this school year, the first increase in four years. Officials cited the "Ready Freddy" registration campaign that included fliers and posters.
The district still is losing students at key schools.
Enrollment in the district's eight accelerated learning academies fell from 3,160 to 2,932, a drop of about 7.2 percent.
Mr. Roosevelt is reconfiguring some schools for middle-grade and high school students, so enrollment numbers at some buildings can't readily be compared with those of previous school years.
Enrollment at eight high schools so far untouched by change fell from 6,180 students to 5,908, a drop of 4.4 percent.
Enrollment at Pittsburgh Oliver High School on the North Side fell by 143 students, to 460.
Enrollment at Pittsburgh Peabody High School in East Liberty fell by 40 students, to 457. Officials have talked about making Peabody's building the permanent home of the new International Baccalaureate school, without saying what would happen to Peabody, a comprehensive high school.
Mr. Roosevelt reported strong enrollment at new magnet schools. The IB school has 621 students in grades six through 10, and the sci-tech school has 247 in grades six through nine.
The district wasn't immediately able to say how many students it lured this school year from suburban, private and charter schools.
Joe Smydo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1548.