Private School News
Many factors impact enrollment: student experience, family perceptions, community involvement, and much more. However, as any School Head or Advancement Director will tell you, the issues of enrollment and re-enrollment drive many conversations and are a top focus for most of the Leadership Team.
The Westfield School, a coed day school in Perry, GA, that serves more than 540 pre-K through 12th grade students, was no exception. However, School Head William Carroll and his team had identified a troubling trend—enrollment had slowly declined for the past 10 years. The Westfield School knew it was time to make a change.
The Problem: Declining Enrollment
In 2014, the school used ISM’s survey services to better understand its school culture and parent satisfaction. “When we conducted our first survey, we were able to compare our findings to ISM’s extensive body of data to get a baseline of where we needed to improve.
“Our findings from the surveys clearly indicated that culture matters deeply. When it comes to communicating with our community, we found that many of our traditional marketing efforts—such as billboards, advertisements, etc.—don’t matter nearly as much as creating and maintaining a dialogue with our current families. Families that are happy with our school and want to share their experiences with others would be a crucial element in changing our enrollment dilemma.”
The Solution: Creating a Positive Narrative
The Westfield School invited ISM Consultant Amy Riley to campus to conduct a Mastering Enrollment Management consultation in the fall of 2015. “Change is always difficult, but our team was ready to try new things,” William said. “Amy has always been accessible, willing to help, and a great resource for our administrators. She learned about our culture, our students, and our faculty, and helped us create and learn how to implement key enrollment management plan initiatives.
“One of our biggest initiatives from that consultation was our strategic internal communication plan. This type of communication occurs primarily between our faculty and our parents and is really a concerted effort to communicate more effectively with students’ families.'
“We wanted to make sure that we’re sharing with parents the full story of what’s happening in the classroom—not just when something is wrong. We want to share good news, positive milestones, and new developments as well.'
“We shifted to an online gradebook so parents and students can see grades in real time. We share photos so parents can see what’s happening each day in the classroom. It’s all about personalized and individualized communication to help drive that positive narrative with our families."
“We found that sharing positive stories gives us much more credibility in our relationships with students’ families. Parents know that we see the potential in their children. So, if there is an issue, they understand that it comes from a place of caring about what’s best for them. It’s been a game-changer in how parents see the school and the experience we provide for their children.”
The Benefit: 10% Enrollment Growth After a 10-Year Decline
“We have seen an incredible amount of growth from an enrollment perspective after implementing these strategies,” said William. “For the 2015–16 school year, our opening enrollment was 492. In 2016–17, after a year with our new strategies in place, our opening enrollment was 520. For the 2017–18 school year, we opened with 540 students. That’s almost 10% enrollment growth after a 10-year decline!
“Moving forward, we are continuing to survey our constituents to track our progress and see trends over time, enabling us to understand the impact of our changes and how they’re affecting community perceptions.
“We have been absolutely delighted with our results. We have seen an incredible return on investment—10 times the amount we paid in terms of student enrollment. It’s been a very worthwhile experience. ISM is the most reputable organization—the gold standard compared to everything else I’ve seen for private-independent schools.”
Congratulations to The Westfield School!
Want to share your school’s story of student, programmatic, or administrative success? Email The Source editorial team here.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 16 No. 3 The Three C’s of Parent Communication
The Source for Private School News Vol. 17 No. 1 How Prince of Peace Christian School Tripled Its Annual Fund
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 6 The One Question School Heads Must Answer to Guarantee Re-enrollment
Additional ISM resources for Gold members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 2 Consolidate and Coordinate Your Parent Communications
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