In a rapidly differentiated education market, many private and public schools find themselves with weakening streams of students coming to their doors. How can you reverse this? How can you build demand for your school?
Community Public Charter School in Charlottesville, Virginia is a very small school that has struggled to support a somewhat unique mission with enough student and community support. Asked by edu-leader Supt. Pam Moran to work with them, I found a school and small group of leaders with a clear vision of offering individualized, student-centered learning, with an emphasis on integrating art into the development of the whole child. In other words, I heard “a great deeper learning experience with some specific programs and pedagogies that might really resonate with a group of parents and students”.
Site leader Chad Ratliff and his small team did two things really well, and in two months this spring created a waiting list of families who want to join them in the fall:
- Created very clear, simple, targeted messaging on their website and in a two-page flyer: “This is who we are; this will be your child’s experience at our school; this is what makes us different and powerful; join us if you agree with our approach to learning.” Minimum edu-babble; maximum user-focused messaging.
- Went into their community, primarily by connecting with their feeder elementary schools; explained to site administrators their learning approach; asked to connect with rising middle school families; shared their simple, clear messages. They found ways to get face-to-face with potential customers and share their message.
The buzz quickly got around, and not only does the school have a wait list for next year, but they are hearing from parents: “I’m mad that I did not hear about this in time to apply”. Not great that people are mad, but there are much worse results than this!
Will this simple approach work for all schools that are struggling to find students? No. Community School is providing a free learning experience that resonates with an underserved demand in the community. Their value proposition aligns with the values of families in their area. Your school might have a marvelous vision, but if it does not overlap with user demand, you are not sustainable. But if there is alignment between your idea of learning and that of the community, then you simply have to become effective marketers, which is not something that school leaders have done in the past. As I wrote in Moving the Rock: the first big lever of transforming our schools is the create a demand in the community for better, deeper learning.