Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Reenrollment of new families should begin in earnest the day the contract is signed. It is a critical step that ensures a good handoff to the School when admission has completed its work.
The key is for Divisional Heads and the Head of School to ensure that they systematically “reinforce and validate” the family’s decision to enroll. Elmwood Franklin School (Preschool-8th) in Buffalo, New York has taken that advice to new levels, and in the paragraphs that follow I'll tell you more about what they are doing. It may be the wave of the future for independent school marketing.
As tuitions keep inching up, the need to “reinforce and validate” is important now more than ever. We need to continually remind our constituents of the school’s benefits throughout the entire year – not just prior to the next admission or reenrollment cycle – to ensure good word of mouth and the pride of association that will attract new families.
Elmwood Franklin School has taken “reinforce and validate” to even higher levels. One employee’s sole job is to communicate with parents four days every week to give them a peek behind the curtain of their child’s life at school. Mark Saldanha (pictured above) is welcomed into classrooms and at school events. Although his official title is Digital Content Manager, his work could just as well be described as Elmwood Franklin’s “Unofficial Director of Parent Engagement.”
Mark's news about student activities goes out to current parents Monday-Thursday and harkens back to Chuck Will’s groundbreaking former blog for Proctor Academy, Chuck’s Corner. Chuck’s Corner was a weekly. Mark’s emails, which typically include a 1-minute video, document activities and experiences in grades 1, 2, 7, and 8 on Mondays and Wednesdays, and grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This publishing schedule alternates weekly.
Head of School Andrew Deyell explained what led him to tap Mark, a second-grade teacher at the time, for this role.
“Mark's creativity, humor, and marketing background combined with his prior role as a classroom teacher and alum of the School made him a naturally good fit for the position. We knew from prior surveying that parents in grades 1-8 wanted to be more connected to what was happening each day in the classroom from an academic standpoint. We also knew that our daily documentation in the Early Childhood program was wildly popular with parents and that those parents who graduated out of the program were missing that feedback.”
Deyell continues, “Parent feedback has been very positive and Mark has incorporated some really great ideas beyond just sending the daily emails to parents. He does sizzle reels and student music videos for our theater events so that whenever we have parents waiting for an event to begin, they are able to see and hear their kids engaged in really amazing activities at the School. He also does teacher features for social media and some other one-off projects, like having students read kind tweets that were written about them.”
Mark’s humor is innate, but he honed his chops as a former actor and standup comic who spent 15 years on the road talking about growing up Indian in a white-comedian world. His credits include Last Comic Standing (NBC), Netflix (Indian Invasion Special), Montreal Comedy Festival, and NBC Sports. Google him to see some of his bits and articles about his life before education.
But show business can be a miserably tough place to catch a break. (I should know. I worked as a professional acoustic singer-songwriter based in LA and Europe for nearly 10 years in the 70s and 80s. When Disco became the rage, live music—and my youthful dreams—cratered!) The comedy world is particularly unforgiving. After taking his shot, Mark returned to his hometown of Buffalo, got an MA in Early Childhood education, and began teaching 2nd grade at his alma mater, Elmwood Franklin.
Examples of Daily Communication
To get the flavor, take a look at several of his email missives:
4th Grade Switch Day
7th Grade videos
8th Grade English
Parents are impressed.
“It’s wonderful to see the classroom/school experience in photos and videos.”
“The emails are compelling because usually it's pulling teeth to get information out of my 7th grader. Now I can see what they did and can ask specific questions when they get home.”
Even though it was designed for retention, these daily communications help get traction on admission goals as well. Director of Admissions Stephanie Katzman reports that potential parents are enthralled with this level of service and connection. “It differentiates us from other schools.”
Director of Communications Rebecca Murak pointed out that current parents love the School for it. “One father who is divorced and only spends weekends with his daughter can now keep up with her activities during the week.”
How often do parents engage with it? Mark, who keeps records of open rates, says about 90% of both Lower and Middle School parents access it regularly. Not surprisingly, some Lower School parents sometimes open one email over 30 times and forward it to relatives and friends if they like the photo or video that includes their child. The record for multiple open rates from one family for one email was 54!
Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate
This practice of daily engagement only started this academic year, so further evaluation of its effectiveness and frequency will be a topic for an end-of-year parent satisfaction survey. But as Communications Director Rebecca Murak told us, “We’ve tried Twitter and blogs but find when we push this kind of information out systematically, it really gets their attention better.”
The key to reenrollment is continual reinforcement and validation of a family’s original decision to enroll. Although other schools may be doing it regularly, I’ve never seen this level of daily engagement from a school.
Congratulations to Elmwood Franklin for taking communications to a new and highly personalized level!
Should there be a Director of Parent Engagement in your school’s future?