Headlights — The Educators Blog

It’s All About Enrollment, Stupid…

Bill Cohen is now completing his third year as Head of School at Kadima Day School in West Hills, California. In addition, he is an Adjunct Lecturer in Education at the American Jewish University’s Graduate Center for Education.

Bill Cohen

Having recently returned from the outstanding North American Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta, a number of ideas and thoughts have crystallized in ways that they had not previously. Here are some foundational thoughts: There are a number of Schechter Schools who are oversubscribed, and who maintain waiting lists. Those schools are limited by location or space, and cannot expand. One challenge for these schools is to “select” the best recruits for their long-term sustainability. However, these school are the vast minority of Jewish Day Schools in North America. For a majority of us, growing our schools by increasing new student enrollment combined with better returning student retention is the key to the future. Yes, like you, I spend a lot of my time doing fundraising (both annual campaign and major gifts), Board of Trustees partnership and committee work, and managing our administrative team. But, in the end of the day, I am convinced that growing our school is the key issue to be addressed over the next five years.

This year, we were able to grow our Elementary School by 13% (from 107 to 122), but our Middle School and Early Childhood Education Center remained stagnant and the percentage of families receiving Tuition Assistance continues to increase. So we live in a moment a great challenge to achieve long-term sustainability. And, again, at this moment, I would suggest that growing our school through innovative strategies, programming and efforts are the key to our long-term future.

Our school is working hard to promote ourselves within our community. We spend a lot of time thinking about PR, and have added social media (Facebook mostly) and better connection to our communities Conservative Synagogues (we are an “independent” Schehcter school not located at a Synagogue) to the top of our agenda. But still, it isn’t enough. We need to develop new ways of reaching out to more potential students and families, and to work harder to convince them to enroll at our school. Then, once they are here, our program and community must be GREAT enough to keep them here for many years to come.

So, with this background in mind, I would like to put forward the following ideas and concepts that we are thinking about:

The Schechter Pre-School Network: Thanks to a session that I attended at the NAJDS Conference with Rabbi Shelly Dorph, the idea developed that we need more “feeder” schools that are connected to us and to Schechter. What better way to achieve this than to develop a network of Schechter Pre-schools? These schools could either be connected through Synagogue, or maybe even better, if they are not. BUT, if students attended Schechter Network pre-schools, we could have a whole new method of enticing them to continue their education at Schechter Elementary Schools. One question is “How would these Pre-Schools benefit from a Schechter connection so that they would want to be included in the Network?” And so, we would need to develop a plan for the pre-schools themselves to benefit through the connection.

We need to do a better job of “shining our light” to the broader community. Many of you have seen Jeffery Swartz’s brilliant piece from the PEJE Keynote of 2010 Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek. If you haven’t seen it yet, and shared it with your Board, I highly suggest it. The idea of shining our late, utilizing our facility and “giving it away” by providing free programming or events to the community is a poignant one. What better way to meet “potential” families than to bring them onto our campus and to “give them” a great experience? We will be working hard to develop this concept as a public relations and recruitment tool in the near future. The question is not what you can do for us, but, what can we do for you?

Connections to the PJ Library or other people who have lists of potential students. Wouldn’t it be great to partner with the PJ library to a receive a list of their kids who are receiving books, with the specific thought of “selling” the concept of Jewish Day school to the PJ library families? How about story-time at our school along with a “meet the author” event?

Even though we have a wonderful pre-school of our own, our true long term success will be based on our ability to grow our school in terms of student population. My vision is to be a “two-track” school from K-5, where we currently maintain one class per grade. (although this year we have 30 Kindergarten students). It will take bold steps and creative ideas to invigorate the potential student interest which we need to create. However, everything else, including strong fundraising, payoff of our mortgage, beginning a substantial endowment, and even annual campaign investment, is contingent upon our school, and yours, maintaining student population growth for the next five years. People love to support a thriving institution, and for many, “thriving” is defined simply in terms of students population growth. While we may not agree with this analysis, it is a reality which could be of significant benefit to us.

2 Responses to “It’s All About Enrollment, Stupid…”

  1. Jane Taubenfeld Cohen says:

    I love reading this- I have been thinking a lot about changing culture from we can’t to we can- am working on a piece about that. This inspires me.

  2. Sally Baer says:

    Excellent post, Bill! I believe we are all constantly working on recruitment and retention. We need to continue to share ideas on what is working best for each of us to ensure sustainability for the future. Connections to PJ Library can certainly benefit our schools by developing relationships with families, so they know that Schechter should be at the very least, a consideration.

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