In late spring 2019, we began working with a mid-sized school district in the Northeast, which was struggling to attract new students and had declining retention rates at the middle-to-high school transition. An influx of charter schools, combined with negative publicity from a safety incident, contributed to the falling enrollment numbers.
Caissa’s objective was to run a pilot program for the district as a test run for a much larger recruitment-retention campaign, enabling us to shift our long-term strategy based on the pilot’s findings.
We began with the recruitment of new students, starting with an enrollment target of 50 students to three schools over a two-month period. In addition to the pilot recruitment campaign, we also hosted training sessions for district leadership that included media training and post-crisis response strategy.
It could seem counterintuitive to begin with a recruitment drive, but this particular district already had great research on the three schools we were targeting for the pilot campaign. It also had existing, albeit underused, communication links between the schools, parents and the community, with email and several social media channels. We utilized their research, coupled with our extensive experience in student recruitment, to combat the issues this district was facing.
As students started to make their high school choices, we helped the district leverage its positive data about in-district test scores and graduation rates, all of which were above state averages. This was to help combat negative perceptions and put indirect pressure on the charter schools to provide their own statistics. We ramped up the school’s use of email communication to parents – by providing “Did You Know” sections of the monthly newsletter, which included the positive statistics, for example – as well as social media posts with new graphics and clean, concise messages aimed at prospective students.
In the second week of our pilot, we conducted a series of three training sessions to teach district leadership on how to respond effectively to negative publicity about their schools. In the first session, we asked district leaders to brainstorm the district’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and then asked how they felt they could improve both perceptions of the district and rectify past issues that may have caused those perceptions.
We used this as the basis for the second and third sessions on effective communication: developing fact-based responses to the coverage through opinion pieces, blog posts and media interviews. The goal was to communicate to parents and families what would change in the long-term, showing self-awareness, as well as more robustly and unapologetically presenting the district’s existing strengths.
Caissa recruited 89 new students, or more than 56% above target, to the three schools for fall enrollment. We tracked the individual names of each recruited student and worked directly with the district to confirm all 89 enrolled in the district as planned.
At the time of writing, we’re proceeding with a full-scale recruitment campaign, drawing on the findings and strategies from the pilot with adaptations due to the continued disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. We are continuing with additional media training for the district and expanding its social media reach, as well.
If you are interested in learning more about recruitment and retention campaigns or other services, please contact us here.