Rabbi Jon Kelsen
Dean, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
What is the advantage of the day school model over that of the public or private secular school supplemented by (even excellent) Hebrew school? In a phrase: culture.
This issue offers insights and strategies concerning school advocacy, by which is meant the ways that a school promotes itself, markets itself and speaks about itself. Authors offer insights into what day schools should know about young parents, and the various means to reach them, both online and in person. Other articles consider how schools can take some of their core practices, such as teaching Hebrew and supporting diverse learners, and use them in their promotion. Additionally, the issue looks at ways that day schools can tap into the larger community and its institutions for purposes of advocacy.
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Over the course of this year, I had the opportunity to visit Rome and to work with leaders of its community day school. My intended purpose there was to assist them with a new strategic planning effort, but what I saw actually shed new light on the more familiar challenges faced by North American day schools.
Often we hear the concern voiced in our day school community, “If we become too inclusive, and have too many students with learning needs, will we develop a reputation as a ‘special needs school’ and lose other students?” or “Are we diverting too many funds to a minority of the school’s population?” We also know that some parents believe that their intellectually gifted children will get the best possible education only if they go to school with other equally gifted students.
If a prospective parent were to ask you as head of school, “How does your school teach reading?” you would have access to an overwhelming number of studies on how children learn to read and what methods are most effective. But if a donor who wished to provide support to advance Hebrew language learning asked, “What is the best way to teach Hebrew? That’s how I want to invest in this school,” there is no equivalent research on which to base an answer.
Our school plays a unique role in our Jewish community. As the only pluralist day school within a 100-mile radius, the school serves a diverse population of families. In order to ensure Rockwern is inclusive and appealing to a wide demographic, the marketing and outreach efforts must both be specific and adaptive. Seven years ago, Rockwern leadership partnered with The Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati to reinvigorate the student enrollment through a Tuition Affordability Initiative.
In my experience working with two-dozen Jewish day schools across North America to drive enrollment and improve retention, I’ve learned this: marketing a Jewish day school in 2018 is hard.
You have multiple target audiences, from educators and administrators to board members, parents, alumni and students. You have a product that requires continuous improvement to stay competitive. You have limited time, talent and money. And you have aggressive metrics to meet.
There’s Something Special About This School. This had been our tag line for over seven years. After our first visits at the school, both of us believed it wholeheartedly. Our director of admissions and marketing, an alumni parent herself, also believed it deeply. And our staff and faculty, as well as long time parents, knew it. But all of these people share one important trait: they have already been in the building, many times.
Since 2008, more than 50,000 parents, representing children in over 100 Jewish day schools, have participated in the PEJE-Measuring Success (MS) parent survey. Thousands more have provided critical feedback on their needs, priorities and perceptions through surveys designed by individual schools. The most successful Jewish day schools are able to act on three or more key themes emanating from a parent survey and see statistically significant improvement on those themes in subsequent surveys.
Oscar Wilde got it right when he said that experience is simply the name we give our mistakes. This axiom has certainly proven to be true over the past three years, as our school employed a range of traditional engagement strategies to transform indifferent alumni—especially millennials—into involved emissaries. Until recently, a great deal of effort was spent planning larger-scale events with perceived cachet, which supported a somewhat-flawed theory that the “right” events would draw in alumni; they didn’t.
For many Jewish day schools, retention from excellent early childhood education programs into day school kindergarten classes is a central focus of the admissions office. Retaining students in high-quality infant, toddler and preschool programs, when parents have no choice but to pay for care, can sometimes seem effortless. However, the tables often turn when a plethora of free public and other competitive independent school options becomes available at kindergarten.
According to a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising. If word-of-mouth advertising is the unpaid spread of a positive marketing message from person to person, social media is the modern day, technological equivalent. Are you more likely to go to a new restaurant because the restaurant claims it is worth it or because a trusted friend says she had a great experience?
A conversation between two creatives about
day school marketing and branding.
Andrea Naddaff is someone you might call a real marketing and branding guru. For over 20 years, Andrea and her team have been enlisted by some of New England’s most prominent universities, private schools and museums to develop their branding, websites and communications strategies.
On a spring day in April, Prizmah’s creative director, Donna Von Samek, sat down with her to talk about two of their favorite topics: marketing and schools.
As we merited to make the journey from slavery to freedom, from the constraints within Egypt to the freedom and challenge of evolving into a nation, it is incumbent upon us to utilize this journey’s message to its fullest. The Passover story informs our work in Jewish education. From our raw beginnings as a people, what lesson can we draw that can direct us in our mission to prepare future generations of Jews in the deepest and most meaningful way possible?
In a recent conversation about the sizable efforts made in England to strengthen Jewish day schools and yeshivas, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks summarized the urgent need for communal support: “The world our children will inherit tomorrow is born in the schools we build today.” In the 21st century, we are blessed to have inherited Jewish day schools and yeshivas that are built on the experience, knowledge and passion of countless leaders who invested in creating and strengthening them. How do we as a community care for that inheritance so that it endures throughout future generations?
In 1965, Shlomo Bardin, the visionary educator and founder of the Brandeis Camp Institute, articulated his case for establishing a college preparatory high school at the site in California. He declared that “the new Academy at Brandeis, California, is based on the premise that Judaism has something to say and to offer in regard to the conduct of [hu]man[ity] in our world.”