Though it is hard work, innovation is essential for the future of independent Christian schools, says Bob Moore.
The Guelph Community Christian School (GCCS) principal says he understands why a principal would want to avoid innovation, but there are opportunities to mitigate declining student populations.
He says schools need to be “courageous in trying to address the decline” or risk putting “the sign on the door.”
A few years ago, a recruitment and retention committee was formed at the school. The committee is a sub-group of the promotions committee, comprised of parents who are “movers and shakers,” and are not afraid to ask the tough questions, says Moore.
The committee constantly scans the horizon, gathering information and bringing it to Moore’s attention. They also use a survey every year to determine what issues school families are talking about and the level of importance of those issues.
An initiative the group started is a Kindercafé, an evening in February where junior and senior kindergarten parents talk with one of the committee members about how things are going.
Moore says the Kindercafé invites parents to talk about how their children are enjoying their early years at school and encourages — without any personal comments — to speak in terms of change and give the school suggestions.
From the event, Moore receives a report on the likes, dislikes and concerns.
He says they are now considering holding an evening for each grade level — primary, junior and intermediate.
A change the committee sparked is starting the school’s re-enrolment process much earlier in the year. Instead of publishing tuition rates for the next year at the spring meeting, the committee told the board it should be announced in February.
This changed the way tuition is determined, setting a price based on the market and what parents can afford.
There is now a re-enrolment evening in February. The first portion of the evening has speakers share about the value of their time in the school.
Moore talks for 15 minutes about what’s coming up in the next year and changes taking place, and a board member talks about highlights from the current year. The treasurer then speaks about the cost.
“Once you’ve spent 45 minutes talking about the value people don’t quibble about the cost,” says Moore, adding this is different than the previous membership meetings.
Having the tuition determined earlier in the year lets parents know what to plan for, and deposits are due March 1. This means the school also knows early who is planning to come back and who is still deciding.
Families who haven’t submitted their registration forms are followed up with by a member of the recruitment and retention committee, giving four months for the school to address any issues.
Last year the school had 90 families enrolled, and 10 graduated. Forty new families joined the school, and the only families that left were moving out of the city.
This retention rate is an improvement from previous years when 10 per cent of families would choose to leave.
Moore says the committee is making the school become more of a bottom-up organization. He says having the committee in place is a lot of work, and is somewhat frightening and threatening, but what the parents are saying is reality and it is a parent-run school.
“If our schools don’t innovate, they will decline,” he says, adding effective innovation is key.
“We’ve got a choice to make; making a sacrifice or watch your school keep doing the same thing the same way you’ve always done, and what’s that definition of lunacy? Doing something the same way you’ve always done it and thinking there’s going to be a change.”
— Part 2 of a two-part series