HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Rebuilding Enrollment

by Jennifer Grubbs Issue: School Advocacy Rockwern Academy, Cincinnati
TOPICS : Advocacy

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. The partnership allowed the school to hire a head of school with extensive day school experience, as well as two marketing professionals. The marketing approach was two-pronged: professionalize internal and external communication, with an emphasis on the Tuition Affordability Initiative; and foster a strong sense of community, as a vehicle to improve retention, beginning in the school’s Early Childhood Education Center.

In 2013, the newly hired marketing professionals placed an emphasis on creating the message track: Rockwern is religiously and economically inclusive. The external marketing featured images that reflect the Jewish diversity at the school, as well as the balance of secular and Judaic studies. Retention events engaged parents across an economic spectrum through the planning, implementation and budgeting process. The team approached recruitment and retention symbiotically, conceptualizing the audience of each touchpoint as interconnected. Each advertisement, email and classroom blog were given the same level of attention and detail. The school calendar became a foundation for the team to address inclusivity of both dual-working and single households. The collaborative endeavor ensured that pluralism and affordability were consistently communicated to community members.

The Tuition Affordability Initiative provided non-need tuition grants that fell into three categories: Grade Grants (Kindergarten-Grade 3), Jewish Communal Professional Grants (JCP), and Multi-Child Grants. The Grade Grants allowed the marketing professional to focus on grades that had historically struggled with retention and also allowed the team to recruit new students with the financial incentive. The JCP Grant, available to students beginning in the Toddler Program, provided an important way to bring in the city’s engaged, committed Jewish leaders, and their families, to Rockwern. The Multi-Child Grant, available to families with at least one child in kindergarten and above, created a form of tuition support that supported our growing families.

In addition to the grants, financial aid, awarded through a confidential review using FAST, provided another tier of support to ensure tuition was not a deterrent. The school provides opportunities throughout the year for its community partners, including the Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Federation, and donors to attend tailored programming and engage with school professionals and board members. The relationship with these partners and donors has allowed the Rockwern community to grow in meaningful ways.

In 2012, the school’s enrollment had reached a low of 144 students; five years later, it had grown to 245. The growth is attributed to many positive advances at the school, but the innovative communication and marketing approach was particularly successful. With a concentrated effort on increasing the school’s presence in the larger Jewish community and promoting the ways in which the school supports a diverse population, both Jewishly and economically, Rockwern has been able to rebuild enrollment from the bottom up. The Early Childhood Education Center continues to be a strong pipeline for the school, and many of the preschool classes are on a waiting list by the January enrollment deadline. The communication and marketing strategies remain focused on the unique, special community at Rockwern, and the outstanding secular and pluralist Judaic studies offered.

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School Advocacy

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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