A large school district in a growing urban area that for years employed passive recruitment and retention strategies found itself facing fresh competition from several alternatives over a three-year period: charter schools, private schools and families choosing to homeschool. The district was focused on revamping a struggling marketing campaign it had in place between 2014 and 2016, with recruitment numbers flat or decreasing when Caissa was first approached three years ago.
Our goal was to recruit 2,000 new students to the district, focusing on four schools in areas of high population growth, over a two-year period. This matched the length of the previous campaign and allowed us time to adjust the campaign as needed. Given the influx of families with children into the city, we split our recruitment efforts to target 1,500 elementary school and 500 high school students each year.
Our approach to recruiting new students involved revamping existing structures to improve their function, before adding a layer of new measures.
Because the district employed a marketing campaign and social media it believed to be robust, we started with three, “coffee night” focus group sessions with existing families in the district. The sessions were designed as postmortems to determine the reach of the existing campaign, perceptions of the district at large and opinions about their neighborhood school.
Caissa found that the existing campaign fell short in several areas. Parents felt as if the messaging presented in emails, flyers and on social media did not resonate with their interests nor did it address their concerns. Social media posts were felt to lack originality and an authentic voice for the district. And while schools in the district did have events like pizza and movie nights and car washes, parents said these were nowhere to be found on the district’s social media channels.
Overall perception of the quality of education provided by schools in the district was high. These perceptions were validated by high graduation rates and standardized test scores, both well above state averages and competitive against the school systems of other large cities. However, the district itself did little to draw attention to or acknowledge this.
We revamped the district’s approach to social media, developing an overarching communications strategy, including the retooling of visual presentations and graphics. We scaled back on reposting third-party content like news articles in favor of original posts on industry trends and interesting facts and figures, as well as events at district schools. We engaged the superintendent and several other district leaders to contribute to a new, interactive blog and set up an easy-to-use suggestion box section of the district’s website to solicit feedback, comments and concerns from parents and families.
We helped create the ad series “It’s Your Choice” to highlight improvements to online registration and school choice in May, June and July of our first year; using social media posts, as well as email blasts and traditional ad space to project the message. The ad series consisted of materials aimed at parents of elementary, as well as high school students who could start the registration process on their own.
Caissa then set up stands at in-person events at local community centers, daycares and zoo family days. We also successfully partnered with local real estate agencies and support organizations for new families moving into the district to promote the benefits of public schools. We helped boost the district’s profile on the organizations’ websites where possible, and placed ads for “It’s Your Choice” in real estate offices citywide.
Overall, Caissa recruited 3,150 students to the district in 2017 and 2018, more than 63% above target. A school board member observed in 2018 that he was particularly impressed that new student growth increased in each of the two years:
We are continuing to both expand the district’s advertising reach and focus on helping it refine its annual registration process to improve retention at the high school level.
If you are interested in learning more about Caissa’s recruitment campaigns or other services, please contact us here.