With declining enrollment in schools across the country, many school leaders recognize that hard times are ahead unless they take a new approach to recruiting and retaining students and families. Parents have more choices than ever when selecting a school for their children, making the education market increasingly competitive. Yet very few schools have experience marketing and selling their school to prospective families. Even larger public school districts have limited funds and experience in this arena. Yet it is more important than ever that educators learn how to market a public school.
Public Schools Aren’t All the Same
Some prospective families, especially those who attended public schools themselves, may believe that all public schools are alike. Create materials and opportunities to share information about your school and what sets it apart from others. Promote facts that appeal to families (e.g., free, diverse, extracurricular opportunities, etc). Talk about how your curriculum sets your school apart from other educational choices, the special services or programs you offer, diverse classes, innovative teaching strategies, and how much you value family engagement.
Identify Your Story
You have a story to tell, one that exemplifies the experiences that you hope all students and families have when they attend your school. Talk to parents who are highly engaged at your school. What do they like about the school? What have they experienced that keeps them coming back year after year? Identify staff stories, too. Ask staff to share stories about how they meet the needs of individual students, how they serve the community, and student and family success stories.
Share Your Success
Ultimately, learning to market a public school is not unlike marketing any other product. You want to show prospective families all your school has to offer their child and convince them to come and check you out in person. Many of those same marketing approaches will be effective for you, too.
Use Family Ambassadors. Those families who have great stories to tell will likely share their experiences with others on their own. Word of mouth is powerful. Encourage them to share but take it even further. Ask those parents to serve as Family Ambassadors. Family Ambassadors can provide authentic stories to prospective families, answer their questions, and become a window allowing families to see what it’s really like to attend your school. In addition, family Ambassadors may lead parent events at school, post about the school on their social media, welcome prospective parents to the school and show them around, and be an ongoing resource for existing parents who want to engage with the school at higher levels.
Identify and Talk with Your Feeders. Identify the schools or other education centers your students attended before arriving at your school. Talk with school leaders at those schools to see how you could work together to inform families about the options at your school as students prepare to transition up to the next grade level.
For example, if your school serves middle school students and families, you may collaborate with local elementary schools to help connect with fourth and fifth-grade students and families. You may share a flier, link to your website, invite them to events at your school, and hold open houses for prospective families. You may also find it helpful to present information at faculty meetings for teachers and school counselors, as many parents will ask those professionals they trust at their current school for recommendations as they prepare to transition to the next school.
Engage Your Community. Work with community business leaders, government officials, and first responders to engage your community within the school. If your school has a specialized technology program, for example, bring in individuals from the community to share about different tech-based careers in your community. Then ask those individuals to share their experience at school at their place of business, on social media, and among their personal networks. Some schools find it helpful to ask the media to attend these events and perhaps write a short article for the local newspaper. If your school supports a local non-profit, ask them to include a brief write-up of that support in their newsletter or website.
Meet Parents Where They Are
Whether in your community at sporting events, in stores or restaurants, or through interactive technology, identify where your prospective students and parents are. Then meet them in that space to share your stories, teach them about modern public schools, and highlight all the reasons your parents and staff chose and continue to choose your school.