How to Show Families the Happiest Place Is on Campus

For all schools, retaining students is a daily undertaking. In the communications office at Mill Springs Academy (Georgia), we aim to show our school in a positive light and be transparent about what’s happening at the same time. We desire to communicate with parents what they need to know while helping them make the re-enrollment decision that works best for their child.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that families don’t make these decisions once. They evaluate a chosen school constantly from the first day of orientation through May, then into the summer, and during each year their child is enrolled at your school.

Mill Springs Academy Faces Perennial Retention Challenges

We have to overcome several retention hurdles at Mill Springs, a 1-12 grade school serving more than 350 high-functioning students with learning disabilities. Because our 12 grades break down into five schools, each with its own principal and culture, we have challenges retaining students from grade to grade and school to school. We also face the hurdle of competing with neighborhood schools that also serve our student population.
To shore up retention year-round, Mill Springs Academy uses a variety of tools. The two main ones are in-person events and a weekly electronic newsletter.

“Rising 9th Grade Parent Breakfast” and Other Events Help Acclimate Families

Schools across the country plan events during their school year to help retain enrolled students. At our school, we call the events “Rising 9th Grade Parent Breakfast,” “Transition Night,” “Girls Luncheon,” “Rafting Trip,” etc. Typically, these events occur in the spring before the next school year begins. Current students and/or parents come for a meet-and-greet with the new teachers, often at the new school. The goal is to help existing students assimilate into their new grade, their new school, or both.

MSA Weekly News Is an E-Update for Parents and Grandparents

Besides hosting events, regularly communicating with parents is probably the best way to aid retention efforts. We rely heavily on our e-newsletter, MSA Weekly News. Each Friday of the school year, we send the electronic publication covering a range of topics, including:
  • Alumni milestones/news
  • Athletic accomplishments
  • Cares and concerns in our community
  • Classroom activities or field trip write-ups (written by instructors or students)
  • College acceptances for our senior class
  • Development news/updates
  • Fine arts news/events
  • Thank-you notes to parents who help in the classroom, etc.
  • Upcoming calendar events
When we began publishing the MSA Weekly News in 2007, we sent our e-newsletter to just parents, but today we include as many grandparents as we can since they frequently subsidize tuition. What they think could affect whether the family decides to re-enroll the child.

Feedback from Families Leads to Newsletter Changes

In 2014, regular readership of the Weekly News reached 55 percent of people at our school, a high percentage for a weekly publication, according to research. But we’re always looking to improve.
By listening to readers, we learn what articles to include. Certainly, parents and grandparents love to see their child or grandchild featured. For instance, one week a parent entered my office telling me how excited her little one was to discover that the picture he painted was dubbed “Art of the Week.”
That positive feedback led me to include students in the distribution list at the beginning of this school year. Initially, readership dropped when I added them. Then students realized what they were receiving and that they might be featured in an article or, better still, that they could write an article and receive a byline. Newsletter readership has steadily ticked upward.
In another instance, during 2012, I received an e-mail from a grandparent who was watching the newly formed swim team excel at our meets but hadn’t seen the team highlighted in the Weekly News. We soon rectified this with an item about the swim team in the next newsletter. My point here is that families seek to find their children mentioned, and they will speak up if they’re not satisfied. 

This year, I set new goals for the Weekly News: Over the course of the school year, I would include at least one article from each of our 60 teachers and ask them to name each of their students in some way, either in the article itself or in a picture caption.

Newsletter Performs Vital Role

We know that happy, successful students are those most likely to return. If the student is happy, the parents are happy. The newsletter should make it crystal clear: The happiest place is on campus.
Here are a few newsletter tips:
  • Keep it short. Even the busiest parent will read or scan short articles.
  • Provide pictures, pictures, pictures. Always try to get a photograph of an activity. Use generic graphics only if necessary (or for calendar/announcement items). Don’t line students up; show them doing something! Action will captivate your audience of students and families. If the article is about a lab in the science room, capture the students doing lab work.
  • Name names. If your picture has four or fewer students, provide each student’s name. Students, in particular, like to see their own names in print. If you are concerned about privacy, remember that you control who receives the newsletter. Always do what’s right for your audience.
  • Disseminate widely to families. If your newsletter is electronic, send it to every family member you can. E-mailing one costs the same as e-mailing five!