The phone call I received in 2017 from the leadership of Southfield School, located in Shreveport, LA, was just like many of the other calls I receive. Jeanette Conaway, Director of Advancement, shared with me that the school’s enrollment had experienced decline and they needed a plan to turn it around. Soon after this call, I was on my way to conduct my initial site visit and to begin work with the school’s leadership team through my Enrollment Catalyst Program.
This is a story about the enrollment turnaround and growth at Southfield School – 10% growth in two years – in an interview format with Gordon W. Walker (Headmaster), Jeanette Conaway, (Director of Advancement) and Clare Coburn (Director of Admissions). Southfield School is the leading independent school in Shreveport, LA.
Describe Southfield School’s enrollment and marketing situation before you hired Rick Newberry and Enrollment Catalyst:
According to Headmaster Walker, the school had been in a slow decline since 2012. He said that this increased more substantially and “in a period of two years we lost about 15% enrollment.” Coburn mentioned that “this significant drop made us realize we had to make some changes.” Conaway had just come aboard as the Director of Advancement and mentioned that the “leadership was seeking new ways to attract families and Rick was invited to help us understand how parents select an independent, private school and opportunities for increasing enrollment.”
Why did you decide to partner with Rick Newberry and Enrollment Catalyst?
The team was familiar with Rick’s blog and knew that he had helped other schools overcome declining enrollment, according to Jeanette. As the headmaster, Walker hired Rick to develop an “Enrollment Strategic Plan and to help turn the declining enrollment trend around.” Coburn said that “we needed guidance and proven methods of increasing enrollment.”
What were the results of working with Enrollment Catalyst? What were your greatest accomplishments?
The turnaround was amazing to experience. Walker said, “In year one the School saw a 5% growth in enrollment and we are expecting similar growth this year, for a total of 10% over two years.” Coburn said, “We began to see a large increase in the number of inquiries and tours. The greatest accomplishment was filling the preschool, and even adding a section in PS4, which will then feed into Kindergarten and the Lower School. As a result, we anticipate having full Kindergarten classes this fall.”
There were many accomplishments by the staff. For the first six months, Rick Newberry met weekly with the entire leadership team to provide accountability and direction to the enrollment and marketing effort. Walker said that it was about “retooling the leadership of the school to fulfill the new enrollment strategies.”
In addition, Conaway stated that she believes “one of the greatest accomplishments has been to reframe our marketing message from tuition assistance and use the term Variable Tuition, which generated inquiries. We also began to use social media and word of mouth marketing strategies to share information about Variable Tuition which was effective.”
Beyond this, a new website was developed, inbound marketing strategies were implemented, a new impression video was created, and Continuous Enrollment was launched.
What was the biggest surprise for your team when implementing recommendations from the Enrollment Catalyst Program?
As the team began to implement the strategies, Walker was surprised to see “almost immediate results.” Conaway added that “one of the things that surprised us was the impact social media can have on enrollment. Once we changed our messaging focus we discovered how well it works with prospective parents.” Coburn said that “there were a few things that I felt we had tried unsuccessfully in the past and discarded, such as Friend Day. Our willingness to trust Rick and try again with perhaps a more ‘modern spin’ produced good results.”
Were there specific initiatives from the Enrollment Catalyst Program that generated the greatest impact for your marketing and enrollment efforts?
Based on conversations with the staff, there were three initiatives that made a significant difference in their enrollment turnaround: Variable Tuition, Continuous Enrollment and the hiring of a marketing director. The focused and dedicated work of the staff made the difference through their successful implementation of these strategies.
Can you describe the process of developing your marketing videos and the impact that these made on your marketing effort?
One of the most creative strategies implemented was a new marketing video — We Want It To Be Your School Too. Inspired to create something that was different from the typical admissions video, Conaway said that “they came up with a script that communicated Southfield’s culture quite effectively. The team wrote the script, our Drama teacher was our talented spokesperson and we worked with a local videography company. It was a fresh approach for us and generated a buzz on social media. The video was recognized with an Addy Award recently.”
The video features their very own Director of Drama, Courtney Young. Her ability to connect with humor and her personality resulted in an award winning video that helped to communicate key messages about the school in a very powerful and effective way.
Coburn said that this helped admissions by “generating a lot of talk in our community!” They have produced a second video as a follow-up to the first one that you might be interested in viewing as well.
What did you like best about working with Rick Newberry?
Walker: “His ability to identify with our School’s culture and suggest enrollment and retention strategies that would succeed in our culture. His discipline by insisting upon weekly meetings, follow through with planned strategies, accountability for reporting analytics, and ‘holding our School’s hand’ throughout the admission’s season (Sept-May).”
Conaway: “Rick instills confidence and creates a willingness to try new strategies. He is encouraging. His knowledge of what has worked well in other schools was helpful. It’s easy to see that he loves his work!”
Coburn: “I think the weekly meetings were very important in keeping us on track. The initial report was overwhelming, but Rick helped us to prioritize and fully implement those parts that would have the most impact on our enrollment. I believe the changes in how we were marketing our school made the biggest difference.”
Another School Growth Success Story
I love school growth success stories, especially when I can be part of the process. This is why I love what I do. I became a member of the Southfield School’s leadership team and gave them the direction that they needed to turnaround their enrollment decline. The leadership team then did the work. The results were double-digit growth which has put the school on the right path moving forward.
Walker says, “Rick and Enrollment Catalyst have made significant contributions to the future health of our School by turning the enrollment trend upside down, meeting retention goals and continuing to suggest strategies for us to move forward with in the future.”