Promoting Your Schools and Marketing to Families is Critical for District Sustainability

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July 18, 2019 BY Matt Coats

In my role at SchoolMint, I have been fortunate to work with many large urban school systems. I’ve also worked with charter schools, CMOs, and suburban districts who have also partnered with us to solve complex student enrollment challenges. It is through these experiences that I have seen the increased concerns school leaders face with simply getting reliable school and district information out into their communities. It has become evident that to empower families, districts must transform the way they communicate and deliver information to all stakeholders.

Recently, I have seen an uptick in school-based initiatives around marketing, branding, and student recruiting practices that were once reserved for the private sector, making their way into school strategy discussions. Additionally, improvements in family outreach and investments made in customer service are gaining attention with the focus of this work being to better connect, inform and guide families to schools that are the best fit for their students. This work is setting schools and districts on a path toward a fiscally sustainable future.

Never before in the history of K12 education have families had more choices, the marketplace has never been more crowded and more competitive. Families today are searching for schools the same way they are searching for, well, everything on Amazon.com. A centralized hub of school information accessible via mobile phone or home internet connection and available in one’s native language is something every district and school organization should be thinking about. This platform solution is dual purposed:

1) It is a destination for families to research, discover and compare all school options, including neighborhood schools and to find the information they need to make informed decisions for their kiddo(s).

2) It is a marketing and outreach tool for school organizations to promote all schools, programs, and services via a central hub or repository of district verified school profile data. To replace the sites families are landing on today which is disjointed from official school published data and often serves a third party interest.

Some of these inferior sites include GreatSchools, School Digger, Niche —  each of these sites uses its own set of criteria for how it determines rankings and also offer a place for site visitors to leave a school “review.” This ungated content most often captures negative comments from parents who may have had an unfavorable experience during an isolated interaction. Additionally, realtors often direct families to where the “good schools” are in a particular city, ultimately guiding families to one neighborhood over another based on their own bias and second-hand knowledge. Further complicating this scenario is this knowledge is opinion-based and has a tendency to include rumors, past experiences, and general myths— i.e., “there are no good schools in ‘that’ part of town”.

When we talk to families about this research, discovery, and decision-making process they often say, “I want my child to attend a good school.” Well, what is a good school, how is it defined? Is it simply school performance that dictates a families’ preference? Research is telling us that today’s family looks at a wider variety of factors when evaluating school options. Some of those factors include the proximity to home, transportation availability, services offered, programs offered, student body diversity, and more. What is an important key takeaway from this research is that a good school means different things to different people. And access to information on neighborhood schools is also highly sought after information.

This lack of reliable information explains why so many families struggle with this process. Many districts are working to host more “school options fairs” but with limited budgets and resources, these events often miss the more critical groups of families who would benefit most from the experience. Alternatively, many districts publish printed guides of all of their schools, but these resources are often outdated the moment they are printed and lead to wasted resources for families who simply wanted to find out about one or two particular programs.

Understanding that this school discovery process is often also the first interaction between a district and a prospective parent, the importance of ensuring a positive first impression is critical. As we circle back to think about the types of young families who are enrolling their children in school today as the same families who shop online, it is no wonder that so many districts are looking to SchoolMint to help solve this critical challenge.

At SchoolMint, we help cities and districts guide families to the schools that best fit their needs and interests. This means a school that has the services a child needs to be successful and the programs to keep them interested in their studies. Our philosophy is to provide families with an authentic search experience that gives them the ability to evaluate their choices, compare options, express interest, and make informed decisions ultimately leading to an application or enrollment request.

Many people who I speak with think this is just a website with schools on a map, just like many districts already publish – SchoolFinder is so much more than a static website. The interactive tool gives families the ability to locate their neighborhood school, search for schools on a map, or match to best fit schools using our guided search process. On any results page, families can compare schools side-by-side, or dive more deeply into a school profile and see rich, relevant and current content like photos, videos, and upcoming events, in addition to data points, demographics, and performance data. This content helps families see their child at this school, creating an emotional connection and improving the likelihood of enrollment. Many profile pages are also equipped with information for families to understand how they can attend each site via school choice or transfer processes. This transparent information removes the mystery that comes with the complexity of today’s choice processes, helping each family understand the actions to take and the likelihood their child will be admitted.

As families are evaluating their options, they can tell the district that they are “interested” in a particular program, triggering a request for their contact information. With this data, schools can begin to communicate with their prospective families using SchoolFinder’s built-in communication tools. This can also directly connect to SchoolMint’s Application and Registration platform. More information on that function can be found here.

In summary, cities, and districts regardless of size have an opportunity to maximize their financial sustainability by ensuring that families can discover the schools that best fit their needs and interests. That means taking control of the narrative around school offerings and providing a repository for reliable school information. SchoolFinder is a highly configurable search tool that provides districts with the opportunity to share the unique story of each school and empowers parents with access to information in an interactive and engaging way setting a course for a collaborative partnership.