Results For Boarding Schools
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- TABS - Buxton
- State of Independent Schools - Dave Taibl
- Keynote: Mission Guidance - John Buxton (Culver)
You're In Charge... Now What?! - Maj Gen Randal Fullhart
Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets
When leadership fails to understand the root cause(s) of a problem, they often waste critical time, energy, and resources addressing only the symptoms.
This chapter is written from a new Head of School's perspective...though it could certainly be used by the leader of any component area of a school's operation: enrollment, academics, athletics, facilities, etc.
The underlying theory here is called the Theory of Constraints. It is a theory coined by the late Eliyahu Goldratt who wrote the best-selling book, The Goal, which illustrates the five thinking processes of the theory. The setting for the book is a manufacturing plant that is struggling to produce both the quantity and quality of product, at a price that is sustainable and that provides for a profit. The head of the plant is confronted with the reality that if things don't improve, the plant will be closed. He must figure out what is wrong and turn it around...quickly...without the benefit of additional personnel, facilities, equipment, or money. In other words, he must fix things with what he has available while continuing to operate the plant.
Sound interesting? Sound familiar? Instead of parts going through the plant and coming out the other end as a finished product think of students coming to our programs, progressing through our system, and emerging after graduation as successful scholars that are disciplined and honorable people ready to go to the next level.
Needless to say... I encourage you to read the book, The Goal. In the meantime, permit me to prime the pump.
If you are coming in as a new Head of School, then you are doing so along the line of a spectrum that begins where the previous head was fired, left, or retired. The school is somewhere on the spectrum of struggling, maintaining, or thriving.
You'll also face some realities regardless of where you are at on those spectrum. Whatever it costs to operate today, will cost more in the future. Even if you have the perfect team, people will leave for other jobs, or retire. Worse case, you don't have the perfect team and you'll need to be able to compete for high quality replacements. Your facilities will not get younger...meaning repairs and renovations will increase, nor will they likely grow significantly in capacity without expansion. The demographics and population of your potential students are going to change over time. Your sources for funding will continue to come from two major areas: Tuition & Fees and Endowments & Donations. Your competition will range from "free" public education, to private schools, to private boarding schools, to private, military boarding schools.
The Theory of Constraints is based on physics in that there is a cause and effect relationship between all things. Some of the things that affect the success of your school are within your direct control, some you influence, and some are outside of your control. Your focus should be on the first two areas.
Given this, the diagram that follows this article represents a rudimentary suggestion of how this might be applied to a school. (Note: take the two sheets and align them left to right.) This is called a Future Reality Tree and is read in the form of "If...Then"...from left to right...from box to box. Some things require more than cause to be in place to create an effect. That's what the circle with the "and" means.
You'll see that it begins with the makeup and inclination of the Board to support the institution's mission, the ability to provide for resources, and the selection and support to the Head of School. You may infer from this that if this is not present, the rest of the endeavor will be very hampered if not doomed to fail.
From there it flows into major components of the program to include admissions, academics, athletics, facilities, etc. For purposes of this article I've limited the complexity somewhat in order to illustrate the point.
At the far right, it illustrates the desired outcome of our programs and suggests that this can lead to increased resources and increased demand for the school enrollment. In short...a virtuous circle.
What's the benefit of such a diagram for your organization?
It gives you a place to start to analyze the health and well-being of what exists, and what is going to be necessary to move things forward. It is important to note that if you don't know what causes a situation to exist, you will be tempted to work on the symptom and not the problem.
As an example, if you go about repainting the dorm without realizing that the underlying cause of it looking dilapidated is that you don't have the financial support from your board, you will may get a freshly painted dorm in the near-term but it is only a matter of time before the problem surfaces elsewhere.
Is this diagram perfect as it currently stands? Is it a perfect reflection of your situation? The answer to both questions is, "No." As military experts will tell you it is not the "plan" that is important, it is the "planning."
My hope is that this will be encouragement to develop the diagram that reflects your desired outcome. What it takes to create the reality that you wish to achieve. In so doing you will discover the underlying relationships and prerequisites for achieving success in all aspects of your organization.
And here is the most important part...
Once you have that understanding, conduct a clear-eyed assessment of where your organization stands (in each element of the diagram) and trace they symptom(s) back to the problem that is causing the symptom(s) in the first place. That's where you need to put the bulk of your time and effort. And once you get things the way they should be...don't rest on your laurels because external realities and the march of time will soon be along to drive the need to address the cause that is now limiting your organization's success.
Marketing - Brig Gen David Wesley
The best schools, military or otherwise, effectively market their unique characteristics in a clear and concise way that enables prospective students and their families to rapidly assess and react to those characteristics, so that they can visit the campus or ask for further information, if the school is a good fit for that individual student.
Is your marketing plan effective?
There are many ways to assess your marketing plan and, as we'll see later in this chapter, an outside perspective can be helpful in making that assessment. Internal methods include qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the current student body with: 1) historical norms for the school, 2) Board-stated goals for enrollment, and 3) physical plant/staffing limitations. It does little good to pursue an enrollment level your campus and staff cannot adequately educate and care for. What will you do if the students actually show up? What if the now larger student body is made up of students who are a poor fit for your mission?
Resolve in the first instance to obtain genuine agreement between the Board and the head of school on the appropriate goal for your marketing efforts and then move out to define that plan in terms all can understand and execute.
What makes a strong marketing plan?
A strong plan is a comprehensive set of techniques designed to use available channels (Internet (including, but not limited to: social media outlets, blogs, and other venues that specifically appeal to today's student audience), print media, word of mouth, radio, television, and other outlets) to make the public aware of what your school offers. The most effective plans develop detailed intelligence about the locations where prospective families might be found and what the demographics of those families are. This enables targeted advertising of the school's characteristics to those who, based on a number of demographic facts, are likely to be favorably disposed to utilize that information to learn more the school and, ultimately, to enroll students there.
Like so many other areas of military school administration, marketing should be the primary responsibility of a single senior staff member with the authority to plan and execute and effective marketing campaign that is consistent with the school's mission and its heritage. Reporting directly to the head of the school, this senior staff member must be resourced with sufficient staff and budget to reach, influence, process, and admit the right number and quality of students. Determining this level of staffing and funding is not an easy task and industry standards are of little help, given the myriad circumstances that combine to make each school unique.
When funds are available, the head of school should hire an outside consultant to evaluate the marketing effort and provide fact-based recommendations on the staffing and budgetary requirements to attain the school's stated enrollment goals. There are a host of firms and more than a few individuals who offer this service and their prices can vary widely, as can the ways in which they conduct their data gathering and analysis.
Who are we?
Central to this marketing effort must be a dedicated effort to clearly state the school's identity. Yes, you're a military school...but why? Yes, you're a college prep school...so what? These things are givens on some level, but what do they say about your institution and what it will deliver to families about to part with hard-earned dollars in an effort to prepare their children for a bright future?
Devote a block of time to an internal staff discussion to refine who you are as an educational institution and why you provide a unique value to your students. This isn't a "pie in the sky" aspirational discussion - who you are determines, for good or ill, what benefits you can reasonably expect to provide to your students. Those benefits are what parents truly seek when they opt to pay for a private school education.
Compare your internally-perceived image with your public documents (your Bylaws, your Strategic Plan, those glossy magazines mailed out to alumni/ae, your local town's impression of the school, and more). When you are confident you have the genuine character and values of your school in mind, discuss these things with your Board to ensure they see things in the same way and normalize any disconnects. With these things in hand, you can begin to craft (or re-craft) marketing efforts that let the public know, "If THIS is what you're looking for, WE are your school!"
Accrediting bodies, consultants, fellow heads of schools, and others can help you think through next steps as you align your now-current vision of the school with the vehicles you've established to convey that image to those who might soon select you to educate their children.
Where are the other resources?
Beyond the excellent background and research AMCSUS provides, you can glean a remarkable amount of marketing intel and guidance from the National Association of Independent School's (NAIS) online databases and the materials provided by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS). Of particular utility are the demographics you can obtain through the use of the NAIS database found at http://dasl.nais.org/.
Membership (and access to these materials) is not inexpensive, but provides a wealth of insight into all aspects of administering and marketing an effective private school, as well as superb treatment of important topics like governance, safety, discipline, health guidelines, employment law, management of physical assets, among others.