An Interview with Scott Barron on School Growth

I have known Scott Barron for several years. Scott is an entrepreneurial and visionary leader. He has provided leadership to several large Christian Schools including most recently at Mount Pisgah Christian School in John’s Creek, GA, and Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, TX. I recently saw Scott at the RenWeb Power Conference in Dallas in July where we were both presenting workshops.

Last year Scott committed full-time to the company he founded in 2006, School Growth, to partner with school heads and boards. He is the Chief Reinvention Officer and CEO, working with heads and boards to develop systems and strategies to improve the academic and economic performance of schools. His goal is to help schools grow and prosper. Scott has a blog in which he regularly writes about these issues, is the author of The Yabwi Tree, and you can follow him on Twitter @yabwi.

Since growth is important to Scott (and to me), I conducted an interview with him to better understand the role of the head of school and the board in the overall enrollment growth of a school:

How do you react to this statement: Enrollment rises or falls with leadership.

“Leadership vision, communication, and performance directly and substantially influence enrollment. For every school, word-of-mouth marketing is the number one source of inquiries from prospective families, and a compelling vision that can be shared through a unique value story will maximize that momentum on the social grapevine. Leadership makes that vision happen through effective strategic planning, personnel decisions, and engaging stakeholders through deep relationships. No open house, view book, or newspaper ad will overcome a deficit in this area.”

What do you believe is the role of the head of school and the school board in the enrollment growth of a school?

“The head of school and the board have a significant impact on enrollment and fundraising growth. Sustained enrollment growth is most likely to occur when the school’s leadership–governance, operations, administration, and learning–is in sync. Too much of the emphasis in school reform is focused on the classroom, putting tremendous pressure on teachers. The school board, operational leaders, and administrators have to be in alignment regarding the mission, culture, and strategies.

We’ve yet to see a high-performing, growing school that has a dysfunctional board. The best school boards have goals for each trustee to fulfill, are intentional about assessing and improving board culture and board meetings, review hard data regarding the health indicators of the school, utilize a strategic process for adding and training new trustees, and provide meaningful goals and coaching for the chief administrator.”

How should the head of school inform and/or involve the board in the enrollment growth of the school?

“The head of school should consistently share with the board accurate and current data regarding:

  • Key performance indicators from the enrollment growth cycle: inquiries, campus visits, applications, offers, and enrollment agreements.
  • Brand performance indicators from web and social media analytics
  • Survey data from randomly selected families to track their propensity to recommend the school and to give to the vision

The head must own the data, and be able to communicate up and down in the organization to provide feedback and direction. The board should be able to offer insight regarding marketing and sales strategies, framed within the context of education management and best practices. The board has to do its homework, too, understanding the differences between school enrollment and other forms of business development.”

How have you seen marketing and enrollment board committees work in a school?

“Our preference is for the chief administrator to have full responsibility for marketing and enrollment, but this structure depends on the growth stage of the board: Organizing, Managing, Governing, or Sustaining. A school board that is either Organizing or Managing will be more involved in these details, less willing to delegate and entrust leadership to the head. Due to budget constraints, the additional manpower from the board and other volunteers may be necessary to perform all of the roles and tasks involved in the marketing and enrollment processes. If the board is at the Governing or Sustaining stage, they will have identified specific results or ends upon which the chief administrator will be assessed, and the board engages in related enrollment activities strictly as volunteers operating under the direction of the administration.”

How can the head of school and board lead enrollment growth at a school?

“The key contributions of the head and board toward an enrollment growth strategy includes identifying the following:

  • Target market: geography, demographics, student characteristics, etc.
  • Ideal Family Profile: specific traits of the family that the school is best prepared to serve
  • Unique value story: how does the school serve this market better than any other in the world
  • Enrollment management people, processes, and systems
  • Brand: key messages, colors, logos, platform strategy, and presence strategy

Three fundamentals that the board should be expected to contribute to enrollment growth are Vision, Viability, and Visibility. Vision we discussed earlier. Viability addresses whether the school is a stable operating business that is prepared to meet its financial, legal, educational, and social obligations. Visibility is the mindshare and connections the school maintains within the community of its target market so that current and potential parents and donors have a high degree of positive awareness.”

What do you believe are the most effective strategies for growing a school?

“1.  Right Customers

2.  Right Services

3.  Right Price

The dynamics of school growth strategies have become much more complex over the last few years, and will continue to change radically in the near future. Technology (including the Internet, mobile computing, software design, learning management systems, online content, etc.) has enabled the disruption and reinvention of the school. For the first time in centuries, the curriculum is no longer controlled by the school and the teacher. It has been emancipated from the classroom, and those schools (primary, secondary and higher ed) that grasp this new reality are in the best position to grow.

Private schools will no longer be able to compete against the “ills” of public education. Public schools are improving, charter schools are gaining ground in nearly every state in the US, homeschools are growing, and virtual education is expanding. The opportunities and threats have changed drastically, so there has never been a more important time for school leaders to plan, execute, and compete at a much higher level.

Great teachers will continue to be the best way to differentiate, but the classroom must become more personalized to each student. Students must be able to own the path and pace of their learning. The master schedule has to be re-thought to expand the number of students taught per teacher and to coordinate with other schools to share teacher expertise. Boards have to be focused on a longer-term vision, building a governance model that is scalable and sustainable for multiple generations.”

Thanks Scott for sharing your thoughts on school growth and the role of the head of school and board.

What do you think about the school growth ideas and perspectives that Scott shared?

How are you dealing with some of these issues as your reinvent your school and seek growth in the future?