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Promoting the Program
Many consider parent access to information the most critical variable in achieving diversity in and across magnet schools. Studies13 document differential access or use of information by parents. The more aware parents are of options, the more likely they are to pursue them. Thus race-neutral recruitment targeted to those community sectors from which a magnet wants to draw students is absolutely key. Every district develops aggressive strategies for promoting and marketing their schools, and schools are expected to do the same. Duval advises schools to "scream your theme." Such efforts typically include developing descriptive brochures, distributing magnet program information to students, mailing information to parents, offering magnet school tours, and hosting large-scale, multischool recruitment events such as a magnet fair.
Market your schools
Duval partners with an outside marketing firm, which works closely with site staff in preparing a brochure for each magnet school. One of the first tasks each year for Duval's marketing specialist is to consult with the lead teacher at each magnet school, who in addition to having program development responsibilities, is charged with formulating and executing a marketing plan for the school. Duval's district-level marketing effort focuses on two major events. The first is "Magnet Mania," an annual trade show of sorts for its magnet schools where students and parents can learn about the various options. Magnet Mania began in 1991, with much thought given to finding a convenient location that would attract and accommodate the most attendees. It is held on the Jacksonville Fairgrounds, which has enough parking to serve the 10,000-12,000 people who attend annually. As a complement to Magnet Mania, the district also produces a catalog containing extensive information about each magnet school. It is structured similarly to college catalogs with their thorough description of various programs.
Duval's second major marketing effort is aimed at eighth graders as they make decisions about where to attend high school. Over a three-day period, the district buses each eighth-grader to a 20-minute session at three different magnet schools of his or her choice. Students complete an interest inventory in advance to help them narrow their choices of which schools to investigate during this period. Other Duval marketing efforts include approximately six parent information sessions a year, print advertising, and informational videos. Duval also has its guidance counselors visit each magnet school so they can accurately advise students and parents from the regular schools.
Figure 5. Hamilton Billboard Advertisement
Hamilton hired an agency to teach principals marketing techniques and to help them conduct focus groups and surveys. It also uses every possible avenue to lure parents and their students: producing shopping-mall recruitment fairs, offering free speakers to civic and religious groups, and providing magnet staff for guest spots on talk-radio programs. It also uses local billboard advertising (see figure 5).
Wake uses an extensive marketing campaign to inform the public about its distinguished magnet program options. Two magnet program staff plan recruiting activities throughout the school year. These activities include organizing and advertising the application acceptance period, a magnet school fair, magnet school open house sessions, evening magnet information sessions, and monthly parent information sessions. The marketing and recruitment staff also network with local businesses, real estate agencies, and government organizations, present at local childcare centers and moms groups, and participate in local camp and education fairs and festivals.
The magnet marketing and recruitment staff work closely with Wake's Communications Department to create and produce a magnet brochure, a magnet web page, a video, a monthly magnet newsletter, flyers, posters, direct mailings, news releases, media advisories, and television and radio interviews. Figure 6 lists Wake's various marketing and recruitment efforts.
Montclair's choice department conducts separate magnet program orientation sessions for elementary and middle school parents, which are followed by school visits during both regular school and evening hours. Each school also has a unique pamphlet describing its theme, core curriculum, special programs, and other highlights. The schools also publish catalogues with more extensive views of what they offer.
Houston produces a magnet program open house at the district administration building, followed by "Magnet Awareness Week," whose activities include scheduled tours of prospective schools.
Figure 6. Wake Marketing and Recruiting Campaigns
|Target specific organizations||Present at meetings and events||Create and distribute marketing materials|
|Child care centers
Women's organizations, mother's groups
Chamber of commerce
|Festivals and fairs
Pre-K information sessions
Parent/Teacher Association meetings
Annual Magnet Fair
TV and radio interviews
Magnet Web site/ intranet
Involve others as co-promoters
Some districts form local advisory councils as a means of getting folks involved and spreading the word. To generate more parent involvement in the magnet program, Wake created a parents' advisory council, with one member serving as a liaison to the district's magnet office. This volunteer is trained by the district in key magnet-related issues such as school budgets and transportation and, in turn, shares this information with other members of the advisory council. The council meets once every four to six weeks with the magnet recruiter to brainstorm and share ideas about how to reach other parents and students. Wake has also created a speaker's bureau, with 40 speakers available to make presentations about the magnet program. The Montclair Council of Parent-Teacher Associations developed a guide, included in orientation packets, to help parents navigate the school selection process. It proposes specific questions for parents to ask on their site visits, ranging from school hours and transportation to learning approaches and areas of study (see figure 7).
Word-of-mouth is one of the more effective ways to create awareness and draw parent interest. Magnet schools make sure that teachers and counselors are well versed in their school program and are prepared to answer any questions parents or community members might have. Schools have found that if teachers and staff members share their success stories with others in the district, interest and participation increase.
Summary for Promoting the Program
Figure 7. Montclair School Visit Questions for Parents (Page 1 of 2)
KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK DURING THE SCHOOL VISIT
Here are some sample questions to ask at the school visits. Some of the information may be in the written materials or tours provided by the schools. Put a check next to the questions that you would like answered when you visit the schools.
Mission and Community
Resources and extra-curricular opportunities