Jacqlyn Burde
Managing Director

Before the start of this school year, we surveyed K-12 parents across Michigan to find out how they felt about their children’s schools. The survey touched upon various topics including their feelings about COVID protocols, concerns about learning loss, mental health, and how schools communicated throughout the pandemic.

As a firm that specializes in supporting public schools and their marketing efforts, we have seen our clients struggle more than ever with unhappy parents and communities since the start of the pandemic. This survey served to validate our hunch, and the hunch of our clients, that the reputation and perceived performance of schools in the eyes of parents has declined significantly over the course of the pandemic.

A Rapid Decline

Prior to the pandemic, 70 percent of parents rated their school’s performance as very good or good; compared to 50% during Covid. In terms of school reputation, 72% of parents viewed their children’s school as having a very good or good reputation; only 61% could say the same this past summer.  This reveals a 20% decline in parents’ view of school performance and 11% decline in parents’ view of school reputation.

We conducted similar surveys for our clients this school year and found results that match the declines for districts across the state. One district saw a 10 percent decline of overall parent satisfaction from 2020 to 2022. In addition, their Net Promoter Score, which measures the likelihood of parents referring family or friends to the district, declined by 16 points over the course of the same two years. When these surveys were done pre-pandemic, we saw scores rise across the board.

Given the fact that many districts we work with rely heavily on students enrolling based on advice parents receive from family and friends, a decline in Net Promoter Score is a concerning indicator of a future decline in enrollment growth.

At a Breaking Point

It’s no secret that many school employees are at a breaking point. The results from the Michigan Education Association’s survey earlier this year stated that teacher satisfaction has plummeted and over a third of teachers surveyed will retire or change careers in the next two-to-three years (Source: Fox 2 Detroit). Of all the clients we serve at Galapagos, every single one is struggling with staffing shortages. Over the past 12 months specifically, we have seen a decline in client productivity and the ability to be inspired for the work ahead. This collision of parental dissatisfaction and staff exhaustion will require districts to rise to the challenges they face.

See the Good

Districts struggling with parent dissatisfaction should remember that no matter what is happening outside of the classroom, it does not take away from the teaching and learning and life-changing moments that occur in classrooms every single day. There are still endless good stories to share once you clear out the noise of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Education is always inspiring when you share the good.

In addition, there are teachers in every district who have mastered their profession. Their daily work with students of all different backgrounds and skill levels is no simple task. Yet, how many of these stories are shared? How many teachers walk into the classrooms in the morning and leave in the evening, without anyone ever seeing a glimpse of their masterful work and passion for their students? While the work done in the classroom may seem normal to educators, those outside of education would be astonished to witness the strategies and well-thought-out plans that educate today’s youth.  Leveraging these truly impressive, meaningful stories of teacher commitment and student success, can help to counteract negativity. 

Stay the Course, and Make a Plan

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think about communications and marketing for your district. But remember, you have something your community needs; you offer something that families truly value and care about. Sometimes it’s about packaging those things up and delivering them more effectively through a Strategic Communications Plan.

As you plan your next school year, keep in mind these Six Priorities for Planning.

  1. Increase Community Pride: Community engagement is everything for school districts. As events return, most of our clients have found that families are hungry for interaction. An event, an inspirational tagline to rally the district, or celebrations and wins for students can start to bring the community back together and create a sense of pride and belonging.
  2. Differentiate: What does your district do best? How does this affect students and your communities? Define those attributes of which you are most proud and that make your district stand out. Then make sure your community knows what these are.
  3. Focus on Retention: As with all organizations, it’s easier to keep a customer – or in this case, student – than it is to acquire a new one. If your students and families have concerns, do you have a process to identify and address them before they escalate into a decision to leave the school? Do you consistently request parent and student feedback to ensure a constant improvement process?
  4. Boost the Customer Experience: A customer’s experience is everything from how easy your website is to navigate, to how friendly front-line staff answer the phone. There is always low-hanging fruit when it comes to improving the customer experience. Find some simple, tactical ways to improve how people feel when they interact with your district.
  5. Drive Acquisition: With choice comes competition. The education of our children has become a competitive marketplace. What steps are you taking to identify and communicate with prospective students? We have seen clients turn around decade-long declines in enrollment numbers with consistent and persistent communications.
  6. Adjust to Changing Consumer Needs: A lot has changed over the past two years. Parents are more skeptical and overall communities are more anxious. What types of communications can you develop to put your families at ease?

Each school community is different, yet the strategies for successful communications planning remain the same. As you think about the upcoming school year, remember that there is important work to be done to boost the reputation of your district and the amazing educators that serve families in your community. With effort and persistence, you can move the needle.

About Galapagos

We believe it’s not the biggest or the strongest that thrives, it is those that know how to adapt, change—and successfully tell their story. Galapagos provides insight-driven strategy and marketing services to both community financial institutions and K-12 schools throughout the country.

Our team of data analysts, strategists, professional communicators, and graphic designers have taken some of the most disciplined and effective marketing strategies and successfully applied them to education and, in particular, the significant issues that school districts face.

Learn more at GalapagosEDU.com.

About the Author:

Jacqlyn Burde joined Galapagos in 2017 after owning a strategic marketing firm for nine years, focusing on schools and financial institutions. As a member of the Galapagos team, she focuses on integrated growth strategies that position schools to boost enrollment by addressing every problem area of the district, both internal and external. Passionate about the power of educators, Jacqlyn has trained teachers, boards of education, front line staff, and administrators on focusing their influence to help grow enrollment, community pride, and family engagement.

A marketer for over two decades, she has been working with public schools for over 15 years. Jacqlyn received an MBA from Davenport University and a BA from Spring Arbor University. In 2008, she completed the Robert M. Perry School of Banking at Central Michigan University.

Constantly caffeinated, in her spare time she relives her glory days as a college athlete by coaching youth sports. She and her family are avid travelers enjoying the beautiful state of Michigan, anywhere with mountains to hike, as well as traveling internationally.