JDS Stories: Putting Parents to Work for Your School- Denver Jewish Day School Revamps Parent Ambassador Program
One of the more common roles parents play in Jewish day schools, either informally or “officially,” is as ambassadors to the prospective families. Shayna Friedman, Director of Admission at Denver Jewish Day School, recently shared their school’s experience with parent ambassadors and how Atidenu helped them rethink their model, resulting in healthier recruitment and retention. How have parents historically worked with the school? Our school has always had active and eager parents who want to get the word out about our educational experience. Before Atidenu, our parent ambassador program was part of a larger body called ROAR, which involved parents in Recruitment Outreach Ambassadorship and Retention. Our school mascot is the tiger, so ROAR was an acronym that worked to build school spirit as well. The dedicated parents who started ROAR were responding to a desire to have DJDS be more competitive in the marketplace and responsive to some misperceptions of the school. Atidenu helped us see that we could enlist even more potential by training our ambassadors to focus on outreach and leave retention issues to school professionals. We now have a robust 20-member Parent Ambassador Committee chaired by a board member that specializes on recruitment of new families. Why do parents get involved as ambassadors? We surveyed our parent ambassadors recently and found that they really feel that being an ambassador is a valuable contribution to the school. In fact our parents want to do MORE, more meetings, more market segments to pursue, more follow up with prospective families. What makes your ambassadors successful? In the training that we do for our ambassadors, we engaged them in a conversation about the ideal qualities for students in our school. This helped establish shared language that is in synch with the broader recruitment process and the mission of the school. Once these qualities were established, we brainstormed ways to zero in on exactly how to identify and attract students with these qualities. Each member of the committee has taken on specific roles and they have designated market segments (certain early childhood schools, synagogues, etc.) for which they are responsible for generating leads. A big change we made after Atidenu was empowering the ambassadors to generate leads for us. Previously, we called on ambassadors when we felt there was a reason for them to work with an already existing lead. This new role of ambassadors has increased our pool of prospective students and connected people to the school we would not have been able to reach otherwise. We also gave our ambassadors a lot of practice on how to respond to complaints. Taking parents out of the retention business did not inoculate them from hearing from unhappy parents in the school. In the past, disgruntled parents would go to ROAR parents first, instead of school administrators. We recently had our principal speak to our ambassadors frankly about student behavior and what it can mean when a student is not the right fit for the school. That kind of transparency was really valued. What have you learned from your parent ambassadors? I continue to be so impressed by how committed our ambassadors are to keeping our school on solid footing. Even as our enrollment has stabilized after a period of decline, they continue to push me and the administration to keep our school competitive with the best schools in the area. Our marketing team has engaged parent ambassadors in the development of marketing plan touchpoints and received specific requests on the materials that are most helpful when meeting with prospective parents. We really consider our ambassadors like a sales force. They have goals for the numbers of leads they are responsible for generating, and I learn each day from their dedication, creativity, and ability to really engage with prospective parents. Like everyone and every school, we can always do better, and our parent ambassadors are often the first to help us on that path.