Let’s see a show of hands…how many of you still wait until the end of January to begin your marketing and enrollment efforts for the next school year?  If you’re an administrator at a Catholic school, I’ll bet you’re thinking that’s what Catholic Schools Week is all about.  It’s the time to showcase your school, and have your annual open house, right?

Unfortunately, if you raised your hand, I’ll bet you’re having significant difficulty with enrollment growth, tuition collection, raising development income and retaining students.

There are two problems with “showcasing your school in January at the annual open house.”  The first is “THE ANNUAL” open house (which should be at the very least, a monthly event, and, optimally, a weekly procedure – but more about that another time). The second is waiting until January to START distributing enrollment information for the school! This was a natural thing to do when all the children of the parish went to the parish school – no questions asked. All one had to do was look at the parish census for an estimated enrollment number.

Today, if you haven’t noticed, the world has changed. Parents with school-aged children are members of the ME Generation (Generation X) in junior high schools and high schools, and are Millennials if they have children enrolled in grades PK-6.  They have the resources of the Internet at their fingertips to research what educational environment will be best for their children. AND there are more educational choices – public school, private school, parochial school, regionalized Catholic school, cyber school, charter school, cybercharter school – than there were back in the day. Throw in tuition, financial aid and parental involvement expectations, and the task becomes as anticipated as filing one’s tax return. There is a business axiom which states to “Plan your work, and work your plan.” But the reality is that we’re usually too busy dealing with the day to day to even find time to work on a plan.

Even Catholic schools have changed!  While Catholic Schools Week is celebrated at the end of January/beginning of February, “Discover Catholic Schools” week is now held in November!  First reporting period is done.  Start focusing on the next school year!!

Since this week is Thanksgiving week, and there is some time off scheduled for most schools, today’s Marketing Matter suggests that you put your Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping on hold, and take this long weekend to give thanks with your families, and then give your school, your parents, and the students of your school a real gift – begin next year’s plan NOW. Then, in December, you’ll have the time to prepare materials to effectively market what your school will be doing that’s special, different, unique and remarkable, rather than just hoping and praying that today’s parents (with all those educational choices available to them) will enroll or re-enroll their children in your school. With your plan for next year already in place, you can begin the summer planning for the year AFTER the one that will start in July!

Jesus told us not to worry, but he also told the parable of the talents which advocates taking big risks in order to grow in faith. Teachers are trained to create lesson plans, so why shouldn’t principals and administrators create school plans? Making them now and known in a creative manner markets your school more effectively than a catchy slogan does.  Even though tag lines and positioning statements are important, they are only substantive when the actions of the school bring life to those statements experientially.

So replace your “worry time” with “planning time.”  As Stephen R. Covey’s “first habit” of Highly Effective People states, “Be Proactive.”  Plan your work – and work your plan.  Be proactive – not reactive.  And have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original publication date: 20071119)