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Stand Out: A Guide to [Charter] School Marketing

August 27, 2018

Where there is a charter school, there is a need to drum up some enrollment.

“It is not enough for parents to choose any seats,” saith the charter school; “we need for those parents to choose our seats.”

That’s where some nifty marketing assistance is helpful.

In 2015, the Colorado League of Charter Schools (CLCS) produced a publication entitled, Stand Out: A Guide to School Marketing, created by Lisa Relou Consulting:

Stand Out: A Guide to School Marketing was created in collaboration with Lisa Relou Consulting. Lisa Relou is the former Director of Internal Communications and Marketing for Denver Public Schools and has 15 years of experience marketing
schools in Colorado. She is currently a strategic consultant in the field of education reform and philanthropy and specializes in collaborating with leaders and organizations to tell their story. For information contact

Some thoughts on how parents need help making that school choice:

“The saying “If we build it, they will come,” was quite appropriately proclaimed in a Hollywood-constructed field of dreams. But there are no Hollywood endings here. You have to work at getting families to enroll in your school. So when you are next approached by your school principal or communications person for a marketing budget, think of it as an investment you can’t afford not to make.”

Why Marketing Is An Investment For Charter Schools
By Lisa Relou, Lisa Relou Consulting
Summer 2015 Charter Focus Magazine

You have to get families to enroll in your school.

The name of the game is to “get” students, and there are only so many students; thus, it’s every school for itself. Even so, be brazen enough to friend the district from which your marketed charter is actively intending to siphon students:

Consider requesting student lists from your district/authorizer to use to market your school to prospective families. This is especially useful at transition years (elementary to middle school or middle school to high school) to inform families,
in the market for a new school about the option you offer.

The Colorado League of Charter Schools strongly encourages you to build a relationship with your local district. Building on your mutual desire to provide high-quality school options in your community, meet with the district (including their Communications Office) to find out how you can collaborate, how you can support them, and how they can support you. In some cases, the League may be able to make introductions for you. Contact us for support.

One way to support a traditional school district is to not chisel away at their finances by “working to get families to enroll in your school.” Of course, the endgame of building this so-called supportive relationship between local district and charter is to beef up charter school enrollment.

Be sure to dish out heaping helpings of the dream narrative, compliments of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:

Some parents are specifically looking for a charter school, others might not know
the difference between a charter public school and a traditional public school.
One simple explanation is to state that your school is a tuition-free, public school
that, as a charter school, has the flexibility to be more innovative while still being
held accountable for student achievement.


Charter schools are renowned for creating an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate, and students are provided the structures they need to learn.

Promote how your school uniquely encourages:
• Parent involvement
• Teacher innovation
• Student learning





Focus on the merits of your own school as opposed to the weaknesses of other schools. Attacks on other schools, or even a school district, generally turn parents off.

(Information on this page was created using the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Charter Message Notebook and The Language of Effective Education in American 2014 by

Remember, charter school seeking to increase enrollment: Don’t attack the district because the district is the friend you’re supporting as you siphon its students via *successful* marketing.

Since this publication is about marketing, an analogy to purchasing a car is apropos (analogy compliments of the Fordham Institute):

“Once their non-negotiables are satisfied, [parents] start looking for something special. In the end, it’s not unlike people’s view of cars. Pretty much everyone
wants a vehicle that’s reliable, safe, and affordable. But once those requisites are supplied, drivers and purchasers have dramatically different preferences as
to roominess, sportiness, seating capacity, gas mileage, and, of course—pace Henry Ford—color and style.”

What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs

The document details four steps for school marketing:

  1. Define the Experience
  2. Retain Families
  3. Grow Enrollment
  4. Use Ambassadors

Then come the tips:

  • Marketing tips
  • Website tips
  • Media relations tips

And, finally, some worksheets. (Not posted here, but feel free to peruse in the CLCS marketing report.)

Some highlights from CLCS’s suggested steps and tips:

Satisfaction is a rating, loyalty is a brand. An important way to assess your success is by the number of families who re-enroll every year. It is important to continue to work on your relationship with your families even after they are committed to your school.

Retain the families in your school by letting them know they are valued and asking them to stay.

This is an interesting retention strategy:

Include parents on your list of those to be nurtured and recognized.

Groom those parents and stroke their egos so that they let you keep their kids on your rosters….

Of course, have ambassadors, but remember, ambassadors must only talk of the positive. Put a positive experience in their mouths, but be sure to train (nurture?) them so that the sales pitch sounds personal (like they thought it up themselves):

Ambassadors can be a tremendous asset in spreading the word about your school. They can significantly extend your marketing reach and impact. …

How you can use your ambassadors:

  • To provide positive testimonials of their experience. …

Teach them the skills to be a good storyteller and presenter. Provide them with the messages you want them to communicate, but encourage them to make those messages their own.

As for the media: It must be “properly managed”:

What do the media offer schools? In a word: credibility. The “thirdparty” or “outside” endorsement inherent in positive news coverage can offer a powerful boost to the reputation enjoyed by a school. But this outside viewpoint can also be a potent tool for eroding public confidence and trust when coverage is negative.

Managed properly, news media coverage can:

  • Endorse your school as a center of service and excellence serving the community and students with a quality education;
  • Reinforce and validate your messages; and
  • Provide exposure for your key messages.

If the school is not a “center of service and excellence,” then managing that media becomes all the more important. However, the marketers offer some useful “do’s and dont’s” to help avoid having to manage negative media:

  • Do be consistent by always using the same language to describe your school.
  • Do use approved photos (signed release) of your students, teachers, and parents; ensure the photos reflect the diversity of your school and are of high-quality.
  • Do feature testimonials from students, teachers, and parents.
  • Do emphasize the safe environment your school provides.
  • Don’t use acronyms or education jargon.
  • Don’t make errors in grammar or spelling; have at least two people proofread all information to avoid errors.
  • Don’t embellish your program or school.
  • Don’t make disparaging remarks about other schools.
  • Don’t use poor quality photos.

NOTE: The CAN-SPAM Act establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives
recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.

Let me close with the “sample retention letter,” an effort to keep students from *choosing* elsewhere:

To the family of NAME,

As the school year gets underway, I want to thank you for choosing SCHOOL NAME. We are truly honored that you have entrusted us with your child’s education this year. I speak for all of the staff here at SCHOOL NAME when I say that we are
committed to providing our students with a CUSTOMIZE. (Take this opportunity to talk about your program, school culture, classroom experience, or goals for individual students and the school as a whole.)

In addition to strong instruction in all core subject areas, I’m excited to share that this year your child will have the opportunity to experience CUSTOMIZE (What is new to your school this year? Take this opportunity to describe unique and engaging
classroom/school experiences.) that will add to their learning and progress throughout the year.

I also want to take this opportunity to stress what an important asset you are in your child’s learning journey. Education is a true partnership between home and school. We count on your support and want you to know you can count on ours.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s experience or progress this year, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you again for choosing SCHOOL NAME. I look forward to working with you not just this year, but for many years to



(Be sure to CUSTOMIZE before circulating, and realize that the actual school name is unlikely to be SCHOOL NAME.)

And always remember: Quality of educational experience is nice, but quality of marketing is indispensable.


Blog Author



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Charters

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    how to market your charter school
    I found many versions of this detailed marketing plan by using that phrase in the Google search engine and “within the last year.”
    There are surely some additional sources of boilerplate for keeping your enrollment along with consultancies on how to profit from from starting your own charter school.
    I recall a version of the”ambassador” concept being promoted by the Obama administration’s RESPECT project, originating from McKinsey & Co.
    The tech industry is giving the title of ambassador to teachers who are early adopters and enthusiastic users of products. Some of these programs come with paid trips to tech trade fairs.
    Really interesting detail in this post.

  2. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Oh, the lies corporate charter school tell to steal children away from the public schools.

  3. Reblogged this on Network Schools – Wayne Gersen and commented:
    The whole notion of marketing a school and making a living as “…a strategic consultant in the field of education reform and philanthropy and specializes in collaborating with leaders and organizations to tell their story” is nauseating…. but in the emerging era of choice and charters public schools DO need to heed one piece of advice offered by the Colorado League of Charter Schools: they DO need to “Include parents on your list of those to be nurtured and recognized.” This was a sound practice in the era when I worked in public education (1970-2011), but it is even more important now! In states where choice is advocated by politicians, I think it is safe to assume that parents are getting bombarded with slick brochures written by “…strategic consultants in the field of education reform and philanthropy”. Public schools do not have the time or money to put out slick brochures, but we should have the time to praise and support parents. Failure to do so will increase the bleeding of students.

  4. Linda permalink

    Government waste- Bitsy’s $10 mil. REACH grant which duplicates the territory of the Stand Out Guide. Not surprisingly the grant was given to Tulane’s Douglas Harris and his compadres at 14 universities, some of whom like Harris and the batch at Michigan State University received Arnold grants.
    It’s the big Pharma scheme, get the government to pay for research for the private sector.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: A Guide to Marketing Your Charter School | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Stand Out: A Guide to “Charter School Marketing” | Network Schools - Wayne Gersen

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