HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Marketing the Jewish Community High School
Whether we have been trained in public relations or not, marketing has become a serious consideration for the Jewish Community High School. East coast or west, city or suburbs, "selling" the Jewish educational experience when families have the alternatives of public, magnet and private schools makes this a challenge to all of us committed to the mission of Jewish education.
As Jewish educators we are passionate about the mission of Jewish community high schools, but many families, even those who consider themselves Jewishly committed, may have dismissed Jewish education as a viable option for their children. Therefore, we can not sit back and take for granted that parents will understand and value the mission of our schools.
At Milken Community High School, after a decline in 7th grade enrollment in 2004-05, we made an important decision to look critically at why this was happening. While our Jewish feeder schools were experiencing declining enrollment, we did not allow that to be our rationalization. Instead, with the help of a consultant, we examined demographics, conducted parent satisfaction surveys, and revamped our Admissions Program to include extensive marketing and outreach to our internal and external communities. The work was intensive but the rewards were great. Not only did we affect enrollment, but our image in the community and the interest in our school has never been greater. What we learned can be instructive, so I offer up five important issues that every head of school should consider:
- Why Jewish education? While each of us may offer a personal response to that question, the institution must have a clear statement and vision of the importance of Jewish education to the student and family. Jewish community high schools across the nation are doing important work and each school must relate its own narrative and the collective narrative of the Jewish people in a passionate and compelling way. While acknowledging what their children would gain from a Jewish day school experience, prospective parents are worried about college acceptances. Others fear that the school may be compromising rigorous academics, electives or a competitive athletic program. You need to address these or other concerns while presenting a strong argument for the advantages that Jewish tradition and practice can bring to the lives of their children.
- Clarity of your school's mission. Mission defines who you are and how you are unique; mission is the clear statement of your direction. Many mission statements get lost in rhetoric or jargon, or are too long to remember. The words of your mission should be on the lips of your faculty, students and parents. Your mission should be written and spoken every opportunity you get: in your publications, on your website, at open houses and at parent evenings.
- Know your community and your competition. As Milken examined its admissions process, we became keenly aware of how recruitment was conducted at the many fine private schools in the area. As a result, we changed some of our procedures and engaged more parent docents and student ambassadors in tours and open houses. We went into the community and conducted parent coffees and offered more personal tours and informal opportunities for parents and students to come and experience life at Milken. We looked at other websites, publications and communications. You need to know what your families will experience when they visit competing schools.
- Identify and promote your "centers of excellence." The Mitchell Academy for Science and Technology, whose keynote program is science research, has brought Milken prestige producing semi finalists in the Intel competition two years in a row. The WISE senior internship program that was highlighted in a TIME magazine article on senioritis is a premier program we talk about at every opportunity. Each of your schools can take pride in an array of outstanding programs that will speak to your uniqueness and attract prospective families.
- Use your students, especially alumni in recruitment. They can speak to what a Jewish education has given them and meant to them. Their success and menschlekeit speak to the outstanding work you and your faculty do on a daily basis educating their minds and hearts and souls.
Providing a K-12 Jewish education is a gift to our students and to the Jewish people. Our challenge, as Jewish educators, is to recruit vigorously and to educate passionately, for through the legacy of Torah, we offer children a context for leading rich and meaningful lives.
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