Recruiting Students for Your Blended School: Remember 3 Ps

Recruiting Students for Your Blended School: Remember 3 Ps

Over the past year, your team has developed an exciting vision and detailed plan for a personalized, blended digital learning school that prepares all students for college and 21st century careers.  You’ve found the perfect school leader, secured approval to open and a great facility, and are hiring terrific teachers.  Enrolling students to fill your program is the easy part, right?


More often than not, new schools of choice have had near-death enrollment sagas.  In some cases, the experience is fatal.  Many if not most new schools open with solid missions, education plans, leaders and facilities.  Why do they struggle to meet their enrollment targets and build relationships with families, time after time?

What can you do to avoid their fate? As a serial edupreneur, I’ve helped start lots of schools.  I’ve learned the importance of the 3 Ps:

1)     Pass the picky parent test

2)     Personalized learning’s benefits (share them)

3)     Perseverance


The Picky Parent Test


New school founders should begin by asking ourselves, would I put my own child in this school? Would the world’s pickiest parents enroll their children? If the answer is not a clear yes to both, go back to the drawing board.  You might think: is that the right standard? After all, our school is designed for underprivileged children.  Wait a minute.  In other words, your school is for other people’s children.  Think very hard about the assumptions you may be making, perhaps subconsciously, about the current capacities and future potential of other young people.  How would you feel about a restaurant where the chef wouldn’t eat his own cooking?

Before you launch your enrollment campaign, read Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel’s classic, Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child’s School With Confidence.  Your school should be a place that picky parents—and students—are eager to attend.  That alone will make it a place where children with less picky parents will also get a superb education—and a place where all parents learn the tools to become picky.

The Picky Parent Guide provides a road map to what picky parents should have in mind.  It rightly defines a great school as one in which “students of all abilities and types achieve dramatically better academic results than similar students in other schools.” The Guide encourages parents to assess schools on seven Great School Quality Factors, including a clear mission, high and personalized expectations for all students, monitoring progress and adjusting teaching, focus on effective learning tasks, home-school connection, safe and orderly environment, and strong instructional leadership.  Be prepared to show prospective parents how exactly your school will uphold these quality characteristics, not just in general, but to meet the specific needs of their child.


Sharing Personalized Learning’s Benefits


What makes personalized, blended learning attractive to educators is also exciting to parents.  Put on your picky parent hat and ask yourself: Would you rather your child be in a school where…

  • Their own unique learning needs and interests shaped their day-to-day learning pathway, or at a school where they were lumped together with other children their same age?
  • They learned at an accelerated pace or receive 1-on-1 support to help catch up/move ahead, or learn at the same pace as the average student regardless of his/her own needs?
  • Their typical day was a mix of small group teacher coaching, individual tutoring, effective digital learning, and engaging hands-on learning activities, or mostly teacher lecturing and seat work?
  • They learned to become self-directed learners, taking responsibility for achieving their own learning goals and finding the help they need, or remained dependent on adults to constantly tell them what they needed to do and what their goals should be
  • Parents were provided clear, easy to understand and real-time information about their child’s academic and personal progress, and were contacted quickly if there were any concerns, or parent contact with the school was limited to twice-a-year report cards and 15-minute conferences

As a parent myself, I have a pretty good idea of what option most parents would choose.  If families seem unsure, I’d suggest this analogy: If your child was sick, would you rather take your child to a clinic where they’d receive personalized treatment designed to help them get well, or to a clinic where they’d be put in a room with 25 other patients to receive generic health advice by the doctor?

Of course, your school had better be prepared to live up to the expectations you are setting.  For those of us aspiring to create a great 21st century learning environments, these are very reasonable and attainable expectations.




The world’s best talking points are meaningless unless you can connect with and build authentic relationships with lots and lots of prospective parents.  In most places, families increasingly have multiple school options.  With parents bombarded with slick messages, how do you cut through the clutter?

In a word, perseverance.  In a character, think Ed Harris ’ Gene Kranz in Apollo 13.

Kranz is the personification of relentless as he hunts for a solution to get the astronauts home safely, declaring “failure is not an option.” You need to be similarly driven, with the same sense of urgency in reaching out to families whose children will benefit from a dramatically more personalized and effective learning environment.

If you haven’t already, relentlessly deploy the following strategies in concert:

  • Canvassing – Send your team to speak on a 1-on-1 basis with families in parks, community centers, shops, houses of worship, on the street, and if it makes sense, door-to-door.  Ask them for a moment of their time to learn about a great new school option for their child, get contact information and invite them to one of your events for prospective parents and students.  Don’t forget to canvass grandparents, elders, social service workers and other potential influencers.  Canvassing is a high-impact tool of political and social movement organizing.  In most areas, this is the strategy that will yield the strongest results.  Make sure your canvassers can speak the languages of your prospective parents, and translate your materials.
  • Marketing Campaign – Campaigns include some or all of the following: brochures, flyers, posters, direct mail, advertising and media coverage, both print and online.  More expensive and less personalized than canvassing and by itself less effective, marketing can be a helpful complement.
  • Engaging Events – I’m not talking about the traditional open house, where the school leader drones on while restless kids badger their parents to leave.  Instead, model your events after the engaging, multi-dimensional learning environments you aim to create.  Offer a fun demonstration for kids and parents about how your model will work.  Show them a Khan Academy or online learning game module.  Make sure to take the time to have relationship-building conversations with every parent and young person.  And don’t forget plenty of food.
  • Data Tracking – Your school’s use of real-time monitoring, follow up and adjusting tactics accordingly shouldn’t be limited to student learning.  Start-up schools should track the status and commitment level of every prospective student/family through every stage of the process.  Never assume that an enrollment packet completed a month or a week before opening means that student will actually enroll.  During my last school start-up, I sent my team weekly and later nightly updates on the student count in each commitment level, on a scale of 1 through 5 (the latter meant I was 99% confident).


I like the 3 Ps, but what parent outreach and enrollment strategies have worked best for you? Continue the dialogue in the comments section below.

Written by Jon Bacal

Jon Bacal

A serial edupreneur, Jon Bacal is chief entrepreneurship officer and founder of Venture Academy, a grades 6-12 NGLC Wave IIIa grantee opening in Minneapolis this August

One comment

  1. great article Jon… we started in Sept 2012 and this line struck me between the eyes… “Enrolling students to fill your program is the easy part, right? Wrong.”

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