Drawing Dylan, a graduate of the Meredith School, a well-regarded city public school, is the result of a strategy that high-performing Haddonfield embarked on two school years ago to boost the numbers of tuition-paying students it gets.
While it is one of South Jersey's most affluent districts, Haddonfield has been looking for ways to raise additional revenue for its schools, particularly in the face of state aid cuts. In 2010, it was one of 59 districts that lost all their state aid to make up for a huge budget shortfall in Trenton.
After the cut, the district asked a group of Rutgers business administration students to suggest ways to find new money. One of their ideas was to market the schools' many assets to more tuition-payers.
Haddonfield held open houses. It also strutted its stuff on the district website and elsewhere: high academic standards, Ivy League alumni, athletics, and artistic and musical achievement.
Recently, the state, under a new school rating system, designated Haddonfield's high school a Reward School, marking it as one of the highest achievers in the state.
All that for a price tag below that of a lot of comparable private schools - $11,250 for the high school and $9,900 for the middle school.
While the numbers of tuition-payers were never going to be huge because Haddonfield must first take care of its own, they are up substantially.
In January 2011, Haddonfield's schools had 22 tuition-paying students. For this fall, there are 38, including 30 at the high school.
The number of enrollees is smaller than the 60 that the district had aimed for when it started its marketing campaign. Still, Superintendent Richard Perry said tuition-payers are expected to bring the district $350,000 in revenue this school year.
It is not common for public school districts to seek out tuition-paying students, but it does happen, said Daniel Domenech, director of the American Association of School Administrators.
"It tends to happen in affluent, high-achieving districts," he said.
In Pennsylvania, an informal survey of suburban districts, including affluent Lower Merion, did not turn up any public schools whose officials said they accept tuition students.
Cherry Hill offers tuition slots only for the children of staff, according to district spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel.
Moorestown, another high performer, has six tuition-paying students this coming year and had the same number last year.
In Philadelphia, the public High School for Creative and Performing Arts, for one, has been known to attract tuition-paying suburbanites.
In the Garden State, several districts are participating in the expanded Interdistrict School Choice Program in efforts to boost their flagging enrollments and obtain the additional state aid that comes with accepting children from outside the district, according to Frank Belluscio, New Jersey State School Boards Association spokesman.
Under this state program, participating districts must accept students on a first-come basis. Haddonfield is not participating because it wants to retain control of which students to admit, according to district officials.
"We look to take students who are capable of excelling, but we don't have a prescribed, set bar," said assistant superintendent Michael Wilson, former principal of the high school.
In the second year of its marketing effort, Haddonfield saw an uptick in inquiries from Philadelphia - about 10 out of a total of 60, according to district information. It also received inquiries from residents of a variety of other places, including Cherry Hill, Medford, Moorestown, Atco, and Camden.
This past school year, Haddonfield had the first Philadelphia student that staff can recall - Morgan Feldscher, Dylan's big sister, who came for her senior year after attending a city public high school.
The city school Morgan was attending is popular, with very competitive admissions, but she said it was not a good fit for her. When her mother saw something about the Haddonfield tuition program on television, they decided to check it out.
"I wish I could have been there since the ninth grade," she said.
Academically, she had to do catch-up. School staff helped. She did make friends, including some who came to visit her in Philadelphia. She also went on the senior trip to Disney World.
But Morgan, 18, who plans to major in hospitality management at Widener University, said she believes her brother will have an even better experience starting as a freshman.
Hoping to play baseball in high school, he already has played with Haddonfield kids in a local league this past summer.
Ana Trajano, a Woolwich Township resident who teaches writing at Rowan University, said her son Cyrus would have been starting high school at Kingsway Regional in the fall, but she started looking into other options.
Kingsway is a rapidly growing district, and officials there have long complained of inadequate state funding and only recently have been slated for some relief.
She looked into Haddonfield and was impressed by its high rankings, smaller size, and student-teacher ratio.
Cyrus, who turns 14 in October, said it would be hard to leave his friends, but he liked what he saw when he visited Haddonfield.
The students, he said, "were just very welcoming. They're proud of their school because they do so well."
This summer, he trained on Haddonfield's cross-country team to get a jump on meeting some of his new schoolmates.
Helen Kalinowski of Haddon Heights said she let all three of her children choose their high school. Her middle child chose a parochial school. Her oldest, a son, now a college graduate, and her youngest, Natalie, 14, a high school freshman this fall, both chose Haddonfield.
She said that when her son was there, she was impressed with the mentorship programs, the way students challenged each other to do better, and the variety of available activities.
"I think it's just a great opportunity for kids to get in there," Kalinowski said. "We look at it as a win-win for everyone."
Contact Rita Giordano
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