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Marketing the district

School district looks at ways to attract additional students

A billboard advertising the Lake Oswego School District towers high above the highway on the morning commute to work.

Following a song on the radio, an audio clip touts the district's achievements.

During the evening news, a commercial break shows students hard at work inside the district's schools, hard at play on its athletic fields.

Are these scenarios too bizarre to imagine? Picture them again, because they might become reality.

The use of advertising to promote the district is one option officials are considering to boost its appeal - and enrollment - to a broad audience.

The tactics would aim, in part, to promote LOSD as a competitive and affordable alternative to home or private schooling and help ease the looming problem of declining enrollment in the district.

'Why are private schools recruiting our kids and we're not? It's something we need to look at,' said Superintendent Bill Korach. 'We want to let people know we're also an option.'

The district will focus first on students who live within Lake Oswego boundaries and may eventually recruit students from other cities who are considering private school enrollment.

A majority of those decisions happen at the junction of elementary and junior high school, Korach said.

'That would be interesting,' Korach said about pooling students from other districts.

He added that such an effort would be problematic, because students outside LOSD who are planning a move to private school are difficult to find.

LOSD would benefit from more students in several ways. Each one brings his or her talents to the district, as well as additional state funding to the tune of $5,400.

It would cost about $6,000 per year for a student from outside Lake Oswego to enroll in the district. If their local school district approves a release transfer - usually with compelling reason - that state funding would also follow them to LOSD.

'Students are the lifeblood of the district,' Korach said. 'We want them going to school here and believing in us.'

Without a boost in enrollment, district officials face tough choices in a district that's losing more and more students at the elementary level each year.

An ad hoc committee formed recently to analyze potential district configuration changes, including the closure of an elementary school; combining Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools; combining Waluga and Lake Oswego junior high schools; or creating north- and south-side kindergarten centers.

Korach said it could be several years before any decisions are put into place, but the committee aims to research and discuss the options before presenting a recommendation to the school board in December

While the topic of declining enrollment is especially pressing for LOSD, keeping students in local schools and drawing in new ones 'is a concern everywhere,' said Communications Coordinator Nancy Duin, adding, 'I think it's more prevalent for us right now, with the situation we're in.'

Last year, Riverdale School District spent about $20,000 on marketing, which included a billboard near Portland's South Waterfront and ads in theater playbills. This year, that amount was scaled back to $12,000.

'The most effective of all has been word-of-mouth and connecting and networking through our high school families,' said Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.

About two-thirds of Riverdale's students come from outside the district so marketing is necessary, according to Hagerman.

'We're all in the same boat,' said Hagerman. 'We need to let people know some districts around here are bursting at the seams, but we can provide smaller classes and a wider variety of activities for kids.'

Still, the option of using big money advertising - a practice embraced by area private schools such as Jesuit and Catlin Gabel - raised concerns at LOSD.

'Already people outside of Lake Oswego think we're full of ourselves … which isn't true,' said school board member Rich Akerman.

Billboards, TV and radio ads would serve to further promote the reputation of Lake Oswego as 'Lake Ego,' he said.

The board decided the best way to get the word out about the district's small class size and athletic and academic opportunities is by using current resources, such as the district's Web site and community media outlets.

For now, the district plans to update the district Web site so current students - as well as potential ones - can better navigate it. There's also a high-quality brochure in the works that local Realtors will distribute to families interested in moving to Lake Oswego.

'There are other ways to do it,' Akerman said. 'On the Internet, we can show what the schools have done and how exceptional they are, how (students) are doing on their SATs and where they're going to college. That's about as simple as it gets.'