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Smithville District Christian High School develops plan to tackle enrolment challenges

Written on April 6th, 2009

School expands international student program, enhances marketing and community relationships 

Smithville District Christian High School (SDCH) has developed a plan to tackle its enrolment challenges and maintain the school’s viability and program vibrancy.

Principal Ted Harris notes all the schools in the area are facing a drop in the number of students, as the demographics are changing with fewer children and young people.

“We in the Niagara Peninsula are facing a pretty significant drop in the number of students around so public schools, separate schools (and) Christian schools are all more or less scrambling to find kids,” says Harris.

“It’s a tough dynamic, and when you couple that with lack of confidence that people have with parting with their money or investing it in Christian education … there are challenges,” he says.

Harris says they are convicted of a need to bless others with what they have and from a practical standpoint want to fill their seats with students.

“We are just genuinely working hard to get the word out there about our school and we, like everybody else, are trying to find the best way to do that,” he says.

Harris says SDCH does not have a magic solution to these challenges, but they have developed a plan with several steps that was recently outlined in a school newsletter.

“It’s also a question of getting the right people on the bus so to speak, in other words having the right people in the right positions,” says Harris.

The school has hired a part-time director of communications and admissions who is putting structures in place to move SDCH closer to being the school of choice. SDCH alumni who are in the marketing field are developing a plan that will guide the school’s efforts to boost enrolment.

SDCH is working to ensure strong relationships in the community with churches and its partner schools. As a rural school with a wide catchment area, SDCH has four feeder Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) member schools.

Another area of growth is expanding its international student program. The school currently has eight international students enrolled. This is just the starting point, says Harris, as the school is working with an agent to facilitate relationships with Asian families who can be blessed by Christian education.

The school is enhancing how it presents itself for families looking towards educational alternatives. This includes a redesigned website, new school sign, updated promotional materials, more community events and events generating publicity for the school. The school has good relations with the local media and has found when they submit articles about the school the media often picks the story up.

Among other community involvement initiatives the school has a community choir with students, alumni, parents and community members. The choir sang the national anthem at the Hamilton Bulldogs and Niagara IceDogs games.

The school is also going through a strategic planning process to prepare for the future.

Harris says while the steps will not make the school immune to demographic trends or an economic downturn they need to strive to ensure the school’s blessing is positioned to be shared with families who need to experience Christian high school education.

“The Lord is positioning us for something, I’m not sure what it is but I do think it involves having us share our gift with a wider variety of people, and if we have to be shaken up to do that maybe that’s what the Lord has in mind,” says Harris.