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Reattracting Lost Enrollment

In February 2021, the Minnesota Department of Education released data showing a drop of 17,000 students from public schools during COVID-19, as many news outlets reported. Some families chose not to enroll their students in kindergarten. Others opted for homeschooling or in-person at private schools. The question districts are facing today, as they look ahead to 2021-2022 and beyond, is how to reconnect with families for re-enrollment.

Five key focus areas outline the path forward, but the overarching theme for reattracting families back into schools centers squarely on trust and relationship-building. Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an emotionally charged experience on all fronts, and opinions among students, their families and communities as a whole regarding school district and state decision-making varied widely. The goal now is restoring and reenergizing the relationships that serve as the foundation for all learning. How to proceed? Start at the beginning, acknowledging that families have more choices than ever before. It’s an intensely competitive environment, from a marketing point of view.

The Last Best Experience

The past year introduced a new twist in how district leaders must understand competition for enrollment. The decades-old direct competition familiar to many urban and suburban districts is no longer the greatest risk. As the article 10 Truths About Marketing After the Pandemic in the Harvard Business Review points out:

“You are competing with the last best experience your customer had.”

If a parent just had an easy, efficient experience ordering an item online but now is having trouble enrolling a student, signing up a child for an activity or communicating with a teacher, the school and district suffer in comparison. And there’s an additional point as well.

The More Personal, The Better

Positive interactions are personal. How well does a teacher know my child? How well does the staff know me? Remote learning upended every aspect of the experience familiar to generations, the very personal relationship-building process between staff, students, and families. Identify the ways you can confidently plan to increase the person-to-person connections as next year begins, and highlight those more traditional experiences in welcome contrast to the difficulties that the pandemic introduced. The last best school experience a parent previously had was almost certainly a specific and personal need that was addressed, so be specific. The parent email doesn’t read, “We can’t wait to welcome our students back.” It opens with, “We can’t wait to welcome your child back.” Yes, district-wide decisions are important. But parents care most about what’s happening in their child’s school and classroom.

Go Multi-Channel

The need for communications to students and families has never been greater, but so too is the recognition that people get information from a wide range of sources. Does that mean moving from one channel to another and manually updating the content? No, definitely not. A Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) strategy lets you automate the process and maintain messaging consistency. For more on this point, contact us.

Teachers Have Superpowers 

Most students and families see teachers as educators. Teachers teach. And while that’s a fundamental truth, it’s not the whole truth. Teachers are trained and experienced experts on childhood development. How many parents can claim this same kind of superpower at the scale a teacher can? Moreover, public school teachers interact with the broadest possible cross-section of a community. In a competitive marketplace, especially among families contemplating homeschooling, this fact alone provides an authentic differentiator and gets to the heart of how public schools excel. Spotlight your teachers and staff as caring, child-development experts who are focused on social-emotional and academic growth and well-being, and the joy of learning.

Keep Getting Feedback

Listening fuels learning. They’re inseparable. What are the feedback loops that exist now or could be created to gain knowledge from parents, students, staff and community members? The information you receive can inform not only decision-making but also provide content for ongoing communications with stakeholders. Surveys and other forms of community research are vitally important as school districts rebuild trust with constituents. 

It’s important to remember that trust with your students’ families and community at large isn’t a switch you turn on or off. It’s a continuum, and it takes time to move along the path. Trust is fundamental to a strong, productive partnership between families and schools and serves as a springboard for reattracting lost enrollment.

Published on: April 12, 2021