When I was in elementary school, my father was a troubleshooter for his company. If there was an issue in a plant in another state, off he would go, and we knew that we would soon be moving to follow. As soon as my parents knew which city we would be relocating to, my mother would begin to research schools, making phone calls and scheduling visits. The company may have decided the general location, but the city and neighborhood would be determined by the research she did into the local school district as well as the individual schools. Today, that information is available with a few clicks on a computer. With this information easily accessible around the globe, it is even more important that principals consider the information available about their school.
The reputation of the neighborhood school is one of the main concerns for families who are relocating. According to a survey conducted by Realtor.com, 73% of all home buyers indicated that good schools were important to their home search. Of course, parents want their students to go to the best schools in the area, but when your school is one of several A-rated schools in your district and the neighboring district, you have to consider: Why would parents choose my school? What is it that makes my school unique or stand out amongst the others?
While many people outside of athletics don’t realize it, competition is an ingrained part of education. Our very purpose is to serve the families that live in the communities around our schools; our funding depends on it. How can you help ensure that families with school-age children continue to move into your area as others move out?
My current school is just outside Orlando, FL, within commuting distance of Lockheed Martin, Siemens, The University of Central Florida, and Kennedy Space Center. There are 16 A-rated middle level schools within a 25-mile radius of my campus. How can I get information about our school and our programs out there to convince parents that they want their children to attend my school? There are several factors to take into consideration as you get started:
The School Website
Take a look at your website. Better yet, invite a friend or family member from out of town to look at it. What do they see? What does it leave them wondering? What information is missing that would help them choose your school over another in the area?
Parents are on Facebook, professionals are on Twitter, and students are on Instagram (middle level and high schoolers at least). Consider setting up school profiles on each social media site, making sure to speak with the communications manager at your district office. Then start taking pictures and posting! Having a Spirit Night at a local restaurant? Advertise on social media. Visit a cool lab in a science class? Post pictures so parents of current students and prospective ones can see the hands-on, engaging activities taking place. Be sure to have links to all your social media profiles on the homepage of your school website.
If you have a unique program at your school, reach out to local business owners. Ask them to come be guest speakers. Pick their brain about their industry and information that could be incorporated in lessons. Set up field trips to their business location so students can see real-world applications of what they are learning in the classroom. Be sure to take pictures of all of these activities and promote them on your social media. Tag the appropriate business partner, and they will help spread the word about the unique programs that are available on your campus.
Talk to the principals of the schools in your feeder pattern. What programs do they have? Can you incorporate some of what they do on your campus? Is it possible to develop a continuum from elementary to middle level to high school, with students learning specialized content and earning industry certifications along the way? Invite high school students to visit the middle level and elementary schools to promote the options available in the high school. Middle level students can do the same at the elementary schools.
If you do not have a weekly newsletter, create one. Use it to promote everything mentioned above.
Empower Your Champions
The best champions for your school will be the parents of your current students who love your school. They will advocate for your school and recruit their friends. They are the ones often answering questions in local Facebook groups where prospective families ask about schools.
You control the information that is available about your school. Just having the school grade available on the state department of education website is no longer enough. Yes, the primary business of a school and a school leader is still the education of students. However, it is also important to focus time and energy to marketing your school to continue maintaining a thriving student population and link to the community it serves.