This is a big list.
Hopefully you understand why retention is an important part of any marketing efforts. Now let’s talk about what you can do to help. This is a long list—please don’t feel overwhelmed. I just wanted to be thorough. Pick and choose what feels doable and right for you. Of course time and financial constraints play a part.
You should direct some energy toward school-wide efforts but you should also look at improving the weaknesses you have discovered in your research about your school. For example, if you have learned there is a significant drop in enrollment after fourth grade, you will want to focus some attention at that grade level (see #6 below).
1. Reinforce your school is a great place to be in your PTO communications. In your weekly e-newsletter, include a spot every week where you mention a point of pride about your school—i.e., high test scores, awards that teachers or school have received, evidence why your curriculum is best, you get the idea. When I used to do this, I came up with 15 or so one-liners all at once and submitted them to our secretary so she could just insert one each week in our newsletter. Obviously they can be repeated. PTO officers can also mention points of pride at events and in speeches. For example, “Thanks so much for coming out to the carnival tonight here at Jones School. We really do have a wonderful school, don’t we, with strong academics, too—do you know we’ve just learned we scored in the 90th percentile for math this year!”
2. Highlight the positive in your social media/website. If you do any social media, it may include lots of events and event photos, but be intentional about bragging—tell stories of success of past and current students and also accolades the school and teachers and staff receive. Also share parent testimonials.
3. Give current families something positive to talk about. Create an amazing event or two that will make a lasting impression. For example, on the last day before fall break teachers (preferably but could be PTO) hold signs with nice sentiments and pass out pencils or popsicles to the cars as they are leaving on vacation or hold a special school assembly that is over-the-top fun and creative.
4. Reach out to alums, current students and parents to publicize their success stories. This takes time but costs nothing and is extremely compelling to families to stay the course. It reinforces they made the right choice in schools. (It’s also quite compelling to prospective parents, as well.) Also solicit stories from parents. Use these stories on social media, your website, open houses, in your newsletter, etc.
5. Make new families feel connected immediately. The quicker and stronger their roots grow, the less likely they will cut and run. Ideas include: the PTO President and/or the principal can call each new family during the month of September to welcome them; a couple volunteers can serve as kinder class mentors, reaching out to parents to see if they have issues, give helpful tips, etc.; host a potluck kinder picnic to help families get to know one another; or you can host a couple informal new family events in the summer (such as meeting at a splash pad, for frozen yogurt or a public library event).
6. Plan some activities to address your weaknesses. Use your findings to target your efforts. Ideas include: move-up day; going to the next school for an event; parent coffee with the next-grade teachers; a panel with middle school parents; hosting preschool playdates; or getting and publicizing parent testimonials for that particular weak spot.
7. Start an ambassador program. This is a separate program where parent volunteers help with recruitment and retention efforts. It’s quite a time commitment and is done in conjunction with the principal. Ambassadors’ jobs may include: intentionally talk up the school in and outside of school; host events for prospective and current parents; lead tours; speak at open houses; and reach out individually to parents.
8. If your principal is willing, he or she can:
Host regular coffees—these can serve to quickly dispel negative rumors and get parents talking positively again.
Encourage staff excellence and academic quality.
Engage in frequent, positive, personal communication like thank you’s, congrats and happy birthday via calls, emails, and notes, and encourage teachers and staff to do the same. Such unexpected personal outreach will make families feel an increased positive connection with the school. This is something that fosters word-of-mouth advertising, too.
Ensure all school employees understand the value of retaining current families.
Create a special event for a weak grade that will encourage families to stay so their students can take part (i.e., put on a school musical or promote an overnight field trip).
Whew! I know this list is long. Thanks to Enrollment Catalyst and Your School Marketing for some great retention ideas. Again, take some time to ponder what’s doable. For example, at my school, we began by putting weekly blurbs in our newsletter, having kinder mentors, hosting a kinder picnic (this was a lot of fun) and doing a couple new-family events during summer. Later, we did Q & A with middle school parents for our newsletter, published an article from the middle school principal in our newsletter and our principal hosted monthly coffees. We also did a panel for kinder parents about what to expect in coming years.
After you figure out what works for you, retention-wise, check out a quick tip about voicemail, and as this post highlights, involving your principal in marketing is key. Check out these tips for working with yours. Also, if you have other ideas to foster retention, let me know! This is a time when creativity is key.