Actually, taking over anything which is struggling entails a lot of risk. Anyway, you have talent and experience. So let's examine what's involved in investigating a head of school position in a struggling school before you sign on.
First of all, let's agree to define the struggling school as a school which is having financial difficulties. Once you understand that you are going to have to do some very heavy lifting raising money, that will help you focus on what has to be done. The truth is that most struggling schools didn't arrive in their present condition overnight. This is train wreck which the previous head of school and the board saw coming for several years before now.
Let's look at some of the reasons why a school finds itself facing difficult times.
- Its business model is flawed.
- It didn't market itself effectively.
- It wasn't managed properly.
- It didn't invest in the future.
These four reasons cover most of the more common situations. But there are others.
When you interview for the position, be sure to ask tough questions of the board. Was it a matter of the...
"Accusations of sex abuse at prestigious private school"
"Lavish expenditures on headmaster's house renovations"
These are examples of incidents which have actually taken place at private schools.
It's a headmaster's worst nightmare to read a story about something which happened at his school.
It's a parent's worst nightmare to read a story about something which happened in the school her children are attending.
It's a teacher's worst nightmare to be in the midst of the maelstrom which is the evolving story with all its investigations.
21st century heads of school know that they cannot simply circle the wagons and deny the existence of the story. A couple of decades ago when communications such as Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs and smartphones didn't exist, the fortress mentality was how many heads handled bad press. You expelled a few students, fired some staff and hopefully the matter was put to rest permanently. Not any more.
Now when bad press appears, it takes on a life of its own. It is bad enough to see a column or two in a respected national journal such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, but an article which is continued on several pages? Well, that's pretty serious stuff. Stonewalling, in any form, will not do. The 21st century version of stonewalling is the spin a good public relations agent can and should put on a tough story. But "No comment" will not work either....
Separation of Church and State Historically this has been one of the major reasons why private schools were established. Public schools cannot teach faith-based religion. So if you are a devout follower of your religion, you will probably want your children to have a thorough grounding in their faith. That's why 22,731 private schools are affiliated with a religion according to the 2009 data available from the Private School Universe Survey of the National Center for Educational Statistics. To put that number of schools in context the PSS shows that there were 33,366 private schools in the United States in 2009. Based on those statistics religious private schools constitute 68% of the total.
The largest number of religious schools are Roman Catholic with 22,731 schools. Coming in at a distant second place are Christian (non-denominational) schools with 4,602 institutions under that grouping. So, as you can see from the data, parents want their children to be brought...
That approach doesn't work very well today. Your demographics have changed. More and more of your target parents belong to Generation Y. They get their information from social media.
The diversity goals your school has require different approaches too. You need to extend the reach of your advertising campaigns by using social media which is easily shared. Your market has become more segmented and much more competitive. As the economic outlook makes the future look more and more uncertain parents are examining the educational foundations which their children will need in order to be successful in their adult lives.
The uncertain enconomy which has dogged us since 2008 causes financial concerns for both you and your school and your current and prospective families.
That's where social media comes in. Done well, social media will improve your admissions yield. Done consistently, social media can cement value in place in the minds of your target audience.
But remember: social media is still marketing. It requires planning and execution of that marketing plan to work. It cannot be a hit or miss approach. Neither can you leave your marketing...
Dedicate resources to social media.
My first bit of advice is simple but really quite necessary: devote some resources to your social media program. Your school's web site used to be the only front door your school had. It was the first thing people saw. Now it is the first thing parents or anybody over the age of 40 will see. Facebook is your new front door for folks under the age of 30.
You wouldn't be casual about creating your catalog, would you? (Did anybody ask about catalogs?) Your catalog and other printed materials which you send to prospective families are always professionally produced, aren't they? Same thing with social media. Allocate staff time and money to social media for the best results.
Social media principles are the same as with any professional, well-crafted publicity materials.
Develop an editorial calendar so that your postings are organized and have some consistency.
Your school year has its own unique rhythm to it. Anchor your postings around those milestone events and happenings. For example, if Grandparents' Day is the 3rd Wednesday in October, you would start a few weeks before with...