It’s often difficult to reduce to a sound bite complex issues. It is especially true in a heated Town Hall meeting. However, certain questions deserve a thoughtful response, and I am utilizing my blog to launch a series of responses that address the questions on everyone’s mind. The first addresses student recruitment, the far-reaching efforts to maximize enrollment. Consider it also as one more invitation to get involved.
What drives any school’s viability is enrollment. One of the great paradoxes is that even though the Jewish population north of Steeles has grown rapidly and significantly over the past ten years, the vast majority of these families are not enrolling in day schools. We know this from the fact that enrollment is down considerably at Leo Baeck North and the Kamin branch of Associated Hebrew Schools on Atkinson just as it is at TCK.
Three years ago, we hired a consulting firm that helped us develop a strategic plan to slow the downturn in enrollment. If it had not been for the plan (described in the next paragraphs), it is likely that the need to close TCK would have occurred sooner. The plan called for several changes which included the following: We shifted our focus from admissions to recruitment, from “management” to “sales.” We increased the number of full-time staff in the admissions office by redeploying a senior staff member to manage this vital area. The director reported to me weekly but also provided reports to the board and UJA.
We established a committee of 40 parents with representation from both campuses as well as the Board. These parents were subdivided by feeder school in order to intensify recruitment in their former school whether a Jewish day school or public or secular private school. We formed a student hosts committee at TCW and worked together with the highly successful TCK student ambassador program. They worked at every open house and recruitment event and also made phone calls to prospective applicants (see the January, 2106 blog post “Bring people onto the dance floor” at http://thebuckstopshere.tanenbaumchat.org/?author=3&paged=5. They also attended “parlor” meetings in homes where we met with groups of families from a particular neighbourhood.
We created the Scholars Circle to provide not only additional tuition relief to new families and Judaic content to discuss as a family, but also exposure to our Jewish Studies teachers in an intensive way so that parents will become even stronger ambassadors of the school. To help ease the burden of tuition for even more families, we offered the UJA’s Extended Payment Program.
We developed novel ways to reach New Stream students by going to Jewish summer camps to make recruitment pitches and showcase some of our unique offerings like robotics. We follow up with families who receive One Happy Camper grants, a program that targets a population that can feed our New Stream program. We built relationships with supplementary Jewish schools (particularly JRoots, Neshama, Ahavat Israel, Beit Rayim, Kachol Lavan) and brought TanenbaumCHAT into the classroom so that these students can learn what opportunities can be theirs. Rabbis have been provided material to promote TanenbaumCHAT from the pulpit. Synagogues have created TanenbaumCHAT shabbatot where our students participate as a group in the main sanctuary Shabbat morning service.
We worked with a marketing firm to help strengthen our brand and have a stronger presence in social media. That firm encouraged me to start a blog to publicize all the wonderful things our teachers and students do in the school, make the case for TanenbaumCHAT, and alert families to the challenges that lie before us (http://thebuckstopshere.tanenbaumchat.org/?author=3).
We ramped up advertising to prospective students in specific ways via:
- Postal drops (3 rounds of 10,000-11,000 postcards advertising Open House) (35% of the people who attended Open House heard about it through the postcard they received)
- Feeder school calendar
- Feeder school newsletters
- The CHATTER magazine to incoming and feeder school families
- Facebook ads
- Russian language advertisements and articles
- Flyers for open house posted around the city: Starbucks, grocery stores, etc.
We developed deeper partnerships with our Jewish day school feeders via:
- Alumni success packages showcasing how well grads of feeder schools do at our school
- The Student Leadership Conference for feeder school student councils
- The Robotics outreach program for middle school students held at TanenbaumCHAT
- Student hosts/ambassadors calling prospective students to answer questions
- Feeder school students come for half a day to experience the arts program
- Personal phone calls to any Grade 8 day school child who did NOT enroll
That enrollment has declined is not due to a lack of effort on the part of teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members. Yes, we can always benefit from more ideas and more TanenbaumCHAT evangelists. The need to do so is no more evident than now. To get involved, contact Laurie Wasser at firstname.lastname@example.org. The long-term health of our school depends on you.