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Centering Mission and Values: Lessons from Phoenix International School of the Arts

By: Jeremy Divinity

As the second recap from our attendance at the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024 Annual Convening in Los Angeles, this blog shares insights from a captivating Breakout Session titled, “Core Messaging: Communicating Values in Partnerships and Recruitment.” This session focused on the remarkable journey of Phoenix International School of the Arts (PISOTA) in staying true to its mission and values while forging partnerships and recruiting students.

A Visionary Instituion: Phoenix International School of the Arts

Founded in 2023 as part of the UnifiED School Launch Fellowship, PISOTA stands as a beacon of creativity and international perspective in Charles County, Maryland. Operating in collaboration with Charles County Public Schools, PISOTA offers a unique arts- and international-focused curriculum that empowers students to become leaders in a globalized world.

Mission and Vision: Empowering Through the Arts

At the heart of PISOTA’s mission is a commitment to providing students with daily immersion in the arts, including dance, music, acting, visual arts, and museum studies. This immersive experience is coupled with an international perspective woven into every aspect of learning. PISOTA believes that by exposing students to diverse perspectives, they are better equipped to tackle complex challenges and drive positive change in society.

Lessons in Recruitment and Partnership

During the Breakout Session, attendees explored PISOTA’s innovative approach to teacher recruitment and student enrollment. Central to their strategy was a focus on communicating core values and fostering meaningful partnerships within the community. By involving stakeholders in the mission and vision process, PISOTA ensured alignment with the community’s needs and aspirations.

Teacher Recruitment: PISOTA understood that the success of its mission hinged on the dedication and talent of its teaching staff. To attract top educators aligned with the school’s values, PISOTA employed a rigorous recruitment process that emphasized more than just qualifications. Interview questions were designed to gauge a candidate’s passion for arts education, commitment to cultural diversity, and willingness to engage with the community. By prioritizing these qualities, PISOTA ensured that its faculty members were not only skilled educators but also enthusiastic advocates for the school’s mission.

Student Enrollment: Building a diverse and vibrant student body is another cornerstone of PISOTA’s success. The school recognized that meaningful engagement with prospective families goes beyond traditional marketing tactics. Instead, PISOTA focuses on building authentic connections with the community by inviting parents, students, and local leaders to participate in “dream sessions” where they can share their aspirations for the school. By involving stakeholders in the enrollment marketing process, PISOTA fosters a sense of ownership and investment in the school’s mission, resulting in higher retention rates, a long waiting list, and a more cohesive school community.

Tactics for Success: Connecting with Purpose

PISOTA employed various tactics to connect with prospective students and families, from hosting community events to offering enrollment tours, each designed with the school’s mission and values in mind. These initiatives not only highlight the school’s unique offerings but also served as platforms for building lasting relationships with the community. Here are a few tactics employed that might be useful for your charter school:

Events/Bring in the Community: Central to PISOTA’s approach was the belief that education extends beyond the classroom walls and into the community. Hosting events and activities that appealed to both current and prospective families was a cornerstone of PISOTA’s outreach strategy. From art showcases and performances to wellness workshops and open houses, these events provided opportunities for community members to experience the school’s unique offerings firsthand and engage with faculty, staff, and students in a relaxed, informal setting.

“Community Uplift” and “Wellness in the Park”: PISOTA went beyond traditional recruitment methods by actively contributing to the well-being of the community. Initiatives like “Community Uplift” and “Wellness in the Park” not only promoted the school’s commitment to holistic education but also served as platforms for building relationships with local residents. By addressing pressing community needs and providing valuable resources and support, PISOTA demonstrated its dedication to being a positive force for change in the community.

Info Panels and Enrollment Tours: For families considering enrollment, PISOTA offered a variety of information sessions and enrollment tours designed to showcase the school’s curriculum, facilities, and extracurricular offerings. These personalized experiences not only helped families make informed decisions about their children’s education but also provided opportunities for school staff to connect with prospective students and parents on a deeper level, addressing their questions and concerns in real time.

By embracing these tactics and positioning itself as an integral part of the community, PISOTA not only attracted students and families who shared its values but also built a strong, supportive community that is actively engaged in the school’s success.

In Conclusion

Reflecting on the insights shared during this session, it’s evident that Phoenix International School of the Arts exemplifies the transformative power of charter schools when rooted in a clear mission and values. By prioritizing community engagement, fostering partnerships, and staying true to their vision for the future, PISOTA serves as a shining example of educational excellence and innovation.

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What Charter Schools Can Learn from the Barbie Movie’s Marketing Strategy

August 2, 2023

Consistency in branding is key.

Even those who haven’t seen the movie would recognize that shade of Barbie pink anywhere. The consistent use of the color in everything from billboards to product launches has left a lasting impression on consumers and created an automatic association with the Barbie brand. Charter schools can also establish a strong and recognizable identity.  As a first step, create a simple brand style guide that outlines rules around key details such as colors, font, and logo, and share it with teachers, coaches, and others who use the school’s brand elements. When your branding is the same on the school marquee, baseball jersey, and weekly newsletter, it will become more easily and quickly recognizable over time.

It’s also important to make sure your school’s mission and core values are communicated clearly and accurately to drive home your message and make it easy for prospective families to understand your focus. Conduct an audit of your website, communications, and promotional materials to ensure consistency in messaging. Remember that every time someone interacts with your brand is an opportunity to let them know why they should choose your school!

Partnerships can help to strengthen your brand.

The Barbie movie is a fantastic example of how partnerships can raise awareness and create buzz around your brand. From Barbie-branded apparel to bright pink hot sauce, we are constantly reminded to go see the movie. And while we aren’t suggesting you partner with Crocs to make a pair in your school colors (although this would really make your brand stand out!), there are a lot of other partnerships that could work for your school and support your branding efforts.

You could approach a popular local restaurant and ask them if they would host a fundraiser to donate a percentage of sales on a given day, such as your school’s opening anniversary or during national charter schools week, to tie into your larger campaign. In return, you would mention the promotion and thank the restaurant in flyers and/or emails sent to families. You might approach a local community center, church, or grocery store to ask if you can leave promotional materials in a high-traffic area. Another example is reaching out to local organizations and business to inquire about volunteer and/or mentorship and internship opportunities. And jokes about Crocs aside, other items could work – for example, consider teaming up with local artists or designers to create a new co-branded product with input from your school’s art, business, or engineering classes.

All of these strengthen your brand awareness while helping others in the community to understand your story and be compelled to share it!

Good storytelling keeps your audience engaged.

Strong marketing got people to the theatre, and a compelling story kept the buzz going and generated positive reviews. Charter schools can also harness the power and potential of storytelling to keep families engaged. Charter schools have the important elements of a compelling story – the characters, the mission, the stakes.  In practice, storytelling for charter schools looks a little different. Schools tell their stories at special events, on social media, and face-to-face with students, parents, and community members (for example, at board meetings and school tours). Share your achievements often and widely, and connect them to your school’s mission to reinforce your brand.

By implementing these key lessons from the Barbie movie’s marketing strategy, your charter school can enhance its branding, improve engagement with your community, and make a lasting impact with your message and mission. A consistent and compelling brand identity, coupled with strategic partnerships and effective storytelling, will contribute to increased awareness of and support for your school.

 

 

Grow Your Enrollment Applications With School Tours 

Use tours as a marketing tool to reach prospective families and tell your school’s story.

by Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

July 10, 2017

You’ve gone through all the hard work of starting a charter school.  Your programs are successful and your students are doing well. But you’re still struggling to meet your target enrollment numbers each year.  Success on its own will not automatically generate a waiting list; you must arm prospective parents with information about why your school is a strong educational option for their children.  Because while school choice provides the opportunity for your school to exist in the first place, it also creates competition.

Tweet: Most charter schools don’t have a large marketing budget, but there’s a lot you can do that doesn’t cost much at all. Start by offering tours of your school. Advertise these tours on social media and at local community events. Get in touch with the local homeowners’ association or chamber of commerce, and ask if you can speak for a few minutes at the next meeting. Talk about your school’s mission and how you serve local families, highlight recent achievements, and invite community members to take a tour of the school and/or pass along the message to those with school-aged children.  Reach out to local churches, community centers, and businesses, and ask if you can post flyers on their bulletin boards.  Make sure to include the tour schedule along with your school’s website, phone number, and social media information so that those who wish to contact you about tours are able to do so.

It’s important to get the tour logistics right. Aim to schedule tours at times that are convenient for working parents, such as early in the morning or during lunch hours.  Make sure to keep the tours under an hour (you can always assign staff to stay later and talk to families who aren’t in a rush). If you’re not sure when to schedule the tours, ask a few parents of current students for their input. Maybe evenings and/or weekends work best for your community.  In that case, you might not be able to implement all of the suggestions below, but at least you’ll have a captive audience.

It’s helpful to capture visitors’ contact information so you can stay in touch and monitor interest in your school across time. Create a simple sign-in sheet – the data gathering is easier if this is done on a tablet or computer – that includes the  parent’s name and email address, and the prospective student’s current school (if applicable), and ask visitors to sign in when they arrive for the tour. Knowing where prospective students are coming from will help you to target future communications efforts, and having a database of email addresses of interested families makes it easier to keep telling your school’s story after the tour. If your school sends  newsletters to current parents, include your new contacts in future newsletters to keep them informed of all the great things happening at your school.

Start a cohort of student ambassadors who, along with school staff, will participate in the tours and talk about their experiences. This is especially valuable at the high school level, as parents tend to bring their children on the tours, and they often have questions that only current students can answer.  Inviting parent volunteers to participate in the tours is also beneficial, as they can speak to why your school is a good fit for their families.

It is helpful for the tours to be led by an administrator and a teacher, as both offer valuable perspectives and can answer different questions about the school, its programs, and policies and procedures.  If possible, divide the visit into a school overview (complete with a short question and answer session), and a walking tour. During the presentation, remember to highlight what makes your school unique, including interesting programs and classes, innovative learning methods, and awards and achievements. Invite the student ambassadors to give a quick presentation about something they’re involved in at the school, and invite parent volunteers to speak about parental involvement.

Parents like to know what their child’s day-to-day will look like. On the tour, make sure to visit at least one classroom in action; you can create a rotating sign-up schedule in advance so there isn’t any last minute planning on the day of the tour. Guests don’t need to sit down and observe the class, but they will appreciate being able to pop in and note the setup and size. If possible, visit both a core subject classroom (e.g. math or science) as well as a music or arts classroom. Also plan to stop by areas that are unique to your school, such as a school garden or robotics lab. For larger schools,  parents might be interested in seeing key facilities such as the gymnasium and theatre.

Make sure to provide visiting families with something they can take with them that will aide in their decision-making process. Create a simple one-pager that includes key statistics about the school, such as enrollment, average class size, special programs and classes available, graduation and college statistics (if applicable), contact information, and enrollment/lottery dates and details (there will likely be a lot of questions about this last one, and you want to make sure everyone has the information they need – after all, this is the point of the tour!).  You don’t need to be a graphic design expert to create an effective document, and free online tools like Canva and HubSpot can help with layout and design.

If anyone on the tour has a question you can’t answer, note their contact information so you can follow up with them when you find the answer. And make sure your main office staff is knowledgeable of the school and trained to answer questions, or direct inquires to the appropriate people, when they receive follow-up phone calls.

When guests leave the tour, they should have a clear understanding of what your school is all about. This is a valuable opportunity to connect with prospective families and brag about your school; make the most of it!