In our work at Charter Oak Research, we conduct several phone calls with current Christian school parents and parents of students who once attended a Christian school but did not re-enroll. One of the reasons we provide this service is to give schools more complete information on what current families are thinking as well as insights on why other families have left their school. Our goal is to identify patterns of concerns from parents. Not surprisingly, financial issues are a major reason for some who don’t continue to enroll, but many leave for a variety of other reasons. Those reasons vary in nature, but often stem from a disappointment or lack of satisfaction that causes families to question the value of their investment.
In considering the hundreds of calls that we have made with parents, some themes have emerged that I think are really important for school leaders to consider. First, families are constantly evaluating their decision to enroll their children at your school. By enrolling this year, families are not committing to enrolling them through graduation. In fact, there are many families whose plan is to only enroll them for a few years since there are other options that are less expensive. Other families may only be comfortable with sending their children for a specific division (High School) because of influences at their other alternatives. This creates an ongoing responsibility and an opportunity for Christian schools to make the case of why families should continue to enroll. Knowing that there are very few obstacles that will slow a family down from transferring to a public school or another local private school when they have not seen value in their current school choice, it is important for schools to continue to reinforce the value of the school in the mind of parents.
Secondly, there are students in our schools who are having a major impact on the culture of an individual class or on their school as a whole. Certain cliques and bullying activities are hurting other children and this can often impact other students in powerful ways. If unchecked, the impact can be significant and incur negative outcomes for schools. In some instances, we hear of multiple families leaving a school over a specific student or situation. Unfortunately, the effect of numerous families leaving is incredibly costly for the school both in revenue and in reputation.
Lastly, when we learn of a negative experience or concern about certain situations during our interviews, we follow up with the question – did you share your concern with the school? We often learn that parents did share their concerns with the school but nothing was done to try and support the child and family. With growing enrollment pressures and a genuine desire to serve all students, schools seem to struggle with how to handle these difficult situations. It is important for schools to have a specific plan in place in order to best care for those who are feeling hurt while protecting the culture of the school. Surprisingly, families will say if we share this feedback with the school, they will know exactly who gave us the information because they have already communicated their concerns with administration, as they wanted a resolution or a change.
The initiative to engage and ask families for their feedback is a great exercise for every school. Listening and valuing the concerns of parents is an excellent first step to serving them, but it needs to lead to appropriate action when necessary. When parents are coming to share concerns, they are providing the leader with the opportunity to move the negative situation into a positive by being responsive and identifying the right course of action. While some parents may go overboard with concerns, we should be thankful that they are invested in the education of their child.