Exterior Spruce Up

This may or may not be quick...

Only plant me if you know who will commit to caring for me.

Have you given your home a hard look when you are preparing to sell it, only to suddenly notice a number of needed fixes you somehow ignored for years? It's a common phenomenon. I know it's happened to me.

It seems that we are good at ignoring things at our schools, too. Many schools I visit ignore their exteriors. So, I want you to walk the grounds of your school. Act like this is not your 1,000th time on campus. Objectively look around and take note; make a list. Pretend you are a new family considering this school for your child. You are checking out a number of schools, trying to make quick decisions.

Items to consider:

1. Landscaping issues. Do plants look maintained? Are there lots of weeds?

2. Paint issues. Are buildings or features in need of new paint? Painting the whole school is unlikely, but perhaps an entryway would be doable.

3. Signage. Are signs faded, cracked or covered in bird droppings? Are they effective?

4. Exterior bulletin boards. Do they contain up-to-date information that is engaging and helps convey your brand? Or are they neglected, containing faded, out-of-date contents, if any at all?

5. Ugly spots. Sometimes there are bare spots, or odd problem spots leftover from a remodel or repurposing. Cover/distract with a potted or in-ground plant, a sign or sculpture made by students.

6. Info spot. Make sure you have a spot for brochures or a sign directing to your website for after-hours visitors.

7. Welcome. With the inevitable fencing and security signs (which is good--parents understandably place a high value on security measures), is there anything needed to make the school look more welcoming? Ideas include a welcome mat, potted plants, colorful flag or banner, bench, whimsical mailbox, pretty watering can or wreath.


Consult. Once you compile your list, decide with your parent group, as well as your administration, what is doable (remember to consult your skills audit results to know who might help). Of course you must factor in cost, manpower, upkeep and district rules. Always keep in mind even if you have the cost of the improvement covered, the district still may decline. I once got a Lowe's grant to pay for all sorts of exterior improvements (click here if you're interested in applying). Our district balked at the new rock ground cover we proposed--they did not like the rock's size and instead we had to keep the old gravel and put in boulders...That was a surprise. They also had a very comprehensive list of permitted plants.

Remember your brand. Before doing any improvements, consider your brand. Of course a potted plant might not convey your brand (or maybe the pot could?) but always think about it. For example, if you are a language immersion school, you might have some international flags, a directional sign that gives distances to various countries or a welcome sign in another language. If you are a STEAM school, perhaps you'd have a robot mailbox, a double-helix strand wind chime, a steampunk welcome sign or a student-art installation out front. You get the idea.

Happy improving and I hope you enjoy being a bit creative. This is yet another example of how marketing can be about lots of little things that add up to create a big picture. You may be thinking, We're a public school. What matters is what's going on inside, not the exterior! If families are going to judge our school superficially then we don't want them, anyway! It's an understandable sentiment, but I do think we should put our best foot forward. Taking simple--not extravagant--steps to make sure the outside looks cared for and shows the schools is loved, rather than neglected, makes sense.

If you have any creative ideas for out front, share them! Before and after photos are always welcome. Also share your solutions to tough exterior problem areas...And when you're done, consider improving your lobby walls--they would like to have their say--and also think about touring other schools, where you could find lots of inspiration for your exterior spruce-up...