Every year, when the temperature hovers around 10 below zero, we gather all of our marketing resources so that we can enter tourist season with a vengeance. We rehearse our talking points on what sets us apart from the 49 other elementary schools in the district, design fancy brochures, have pencils printed with the school name, and even line up the boots in the hallways. While Minnesota is not really a tourist destination at this time of year, schools are.
Every year, on the first Saturday in January following the first full week back to school, we don our school garb and haul our presentation materials to our designated booth downtown to join the other seventy five district schools as well as city-wide charters and parochials in a showcase of who learns best, aka, the parent information fair. We pay $10.00 to park, as downtown parking is always at a premium, and wind our way through the skyways with all of our presentation materials to the convention center. We set up our booth, set out our flashy brochures, and get ready to woo prospective parents and students for the following five hours.
Every year, these parents sign up for school tours so that they can get an even closer look to soak up and scrutinize our educational philosophy, test scores, curriculum, and discipline. We answer every question, cater to every whim, and if we could, we’d wine and dine them as well because students mean money, and we can’t operate without either students or money. It all comes down to the fact that parents have a choice as to where to send their children to school, and their choices affect a school’s budget in every way, shape, and form. This is not unlike any for-profit organization that vies for patrons to buy their products, eat in their restaurants, drive their cars, or drink their beer. Therefore we advertise, market, and persuade parents to choose us. It always helps to have good test scores, as parents are very savvy about looking them up online. So unfortunately, what this comes down to is competition; competition within our very own public school district. Is this type of competition healthy? It would be only if we were all given the same playing field, which of course, we are not. But every year we do the same thing.
And every year we pray they pick us. We pray we make our enrollment projections, and we pray that we have enough money to operate a successful program without making painful cuts. But we know it all hinges on the choice that parents make, so regardless of the bottom-line mentality of profiteers, as public schools we must put the peddle to the metal.
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