Is Your School a “Family,” or a “Community?”

If you’ve been a regular visitor to SchoolAdvancement.com, you may know the answer to this one.  Yes, there is a correct answer.  If you’re unsure, let’s see if you can deduce it from the definition of these terms:

Family: a fundamental social group typically consisting of parents and their children; two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and usually reside in the same dwelling place, usually sharing common ancestry.

Community: a group of people in the same locality and under the same governance, having common interests viewed as a distinct segment of society.

Still unsure?  Let’s make it a little easier.  There are two ways to join a family – you are born into it, or you are accepted into it through a particular ceremonial ritual.  You become a member of a community because you happen to find yourself in a particular place with other individuals that have some common interest.

Therefore, may I be so bold as to suggest your parish or your church is a family.  As members of the Church, we are “the bride of Christ.”  We are reborn through Baptism to become a part of the family.

Your school, on the other hand, is a community – people working together with a particular common interest in mind: the education of children.

This September, I’ve seen some yard signs which proclaim, “I’m a proud member of the St. Polycarp School Family.”  While September is a great time to be putting signs in the yards of the neighborhood (since it’s the time when parents of next year’s kindergartener’s start thinking about and researching educational options for their children), the message is a bit off-the-mark.

Contrary to popular belief, spring and summer is NOT the best time to try your best to market your school for the coming school year.  Spring and summer, however, is the best time to get students enrolled in your school.  Remember, marketing leads to inquiries, and proper follow-up with inquiries will lead to getting more children enrolled in the school.  Therefore, autumn is the time when yard signs for your school should start appearing.  Granted, some of these signs may be left over from a trying to get parents to enroll their children in August and September for the current school year, but from September through the winter, you’re marketing your school to grow it for the following school year.

There are also two other reasons why your school shouldn’t be viewed as a family in addition to the fact that’s not a family by definition.  First, if the leader of the school is a beloved individual, there will be a time of grieving when the leader decides to move on, retire, or, in some cases, passes away.  During this time, a new leader will be appointed, and, undoubtedly, will be compared to the previous leader, sometimes unfairly.  The school may go through several leadership changes until it realizes that it must adjust to the change – and, by that time, there may have been some significant enrollment erosion, or the school may have become dysfunctional.  In a community, there is always leadership change.  It may take some time to adjust to it, but a community realizes that leadership change is a part of its nature.

The other reason is that many of today’s parents of school-aged children are members of Generation X.  There is a good chance that they were members of single-parent families, or may have had two sets of parents due to divorce and remarriage.  Therefore, there is also a good chance that their experience of “family” may not have been the most pleasant experience of their life.  As Christian educators, we think “family atmosphere” is a good thing, but they may not have the same understanding.  This misinterpretation is one of those “unintended consequences” which can result in chasing prospective parents away even before they’ve had a chance to find our school on the Web or pay a personal visit and take the tour.  Next week, we’ll provide a little quiz you can give to parents so you can find out what “family” means to them.

So what should that yard sign say?  Members of your school community simply proclaiming they are members of your school community doesn’t provide a call to action.  It’s like just like a Catholic or Christian school that believes it is remarkable because children can talk about God, pray in school and educators can infuse Catholic culture across the curriculum.  While those are excellent qualities, they are expectations.  Parents expect to find those qualities in a faith-based school.  We need to put our faith and beliefs into action by printing a yard sign that says, “Ask me about St. Polycarp School – there’s no place I’d rather place my children.”  That’s bold – and if parents in your school aren’t willing to commit to that strong of a commitment, then you’ve got to find out why.  Your school’s future depends on it.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20100913)