Friday, April 10, 2009

The Dwight & Yvonne Ad Agency

Kudos to Mayor Dwight Jones and School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon on their plan to market Richmond Public Schools to parents in River City. If I were not the modest maven I am, I would be crowing that finally somebody is listening to me. For many months I have been trying to get the message across that we in Richmond must do something to win back middle class parents to our public schools. Mayor Jones made it clear that he is dedicated to making Richmond Public Schools the schools of choice for all our citizens. In Jones words, “We’re not going to sit idly by and watch as the school system enrolls only two-thirds of the children in Richmond.”

Unfortunately, the Dwight and Yvonne marketing plan is defective in several ways—

1- It is selling the wrong product. The “Choice” marketing campaign is aimed generally at increasing enrollment in “Richmond Public Schools.” However, most of the parents that opt out of RPS do so because they believe that the individual school that their child will attend cannot provide the high quality education they desire. Thus, in my neighborhood, parents choose to move or to put their kids in private school not because they have no confidence in RPS. Rather, it is Westover Hills Elementary School, the school their child is zoned for, in which they have no confidence. Just to the west of me, parents are not opting out of RPS; they are opting out of Southampton Elementary School. To the east of my neighborhood, parents say they will move if their child is not admitted to the Patrick Henry Charter School (when it opens). It is not RPS they object to. Rather they object to their children going to Blackwell or Swansboro elementary schools. Further, in many neighborhoods in the city, parents enroll their children in RPS only because they are able to use the Open Enrollment policy to get them into Mary Munford or William Fox elementary schools.

Rather than selling “Richmond Public Schools” to the parents who currently opt out, we must sell them on their neighborhood school. Our marketing campaign must be waged on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. In each neighborhood we must market the local school, not the entity “Richmond Public Schools.” It makes as little sense to win parents over by marketing RPS as a whole as it would be to get you to buy a Chevrolet Aveo with a “Buy General Motors” campaign or to buy Dove soap by advertising Unilever Global.

2. It is targeting the wrong audience. “Choice” will be aimed, initially, at the parents in the city’s first district. The residents of the first district are presumably the city’s wealthiest and to a large extent they choose private over public schools. However, it is unlikely that any advertising campaign will change the behavior of first district parents. Their children are already zoned into what is perceived as one of the best public elementary schools in the city. So, it is unlikely that they eschew RPS because of a perceived lack of quality. I believe they send their children to private schools because that is what they do. In their socio-economic class parents generally choose private schools for the education of their children. Many of these families have sent their children to private schools for generations. They are unlikely to be swayed by any advertising campaign.

The parents that we really need to get to are those who move out of the city rather than send their children to their neighborhood school. I suggest that the fourth district, or one with similar demographics, be chosen for the marketing campaign. In the fourth district most parents opt out of RPS not because private schools are the tradition in their families, but because they have no confidence that their children will receive quality educations in Fisher, Southampton or Westover Hills elementary schools, or Thompson or Brown middle schools, or Huguenot High School. These are the parents that would much rather avoid the expense of private school or the inconvenience of moving to the counties if they could only trust their neighborhood schools. We need to target our marketing campaign at these parents.

3. The product is not uniformly good. In announcing the “Choice” campaign, Mayor Jones said that if Richmond Public Schools is “good enough” for the children of Governor Timothy Kane it should be “good enough” for everyone in the city. Mayor Jones’ statement fails to recognize that not all the schools in the city would have been good enough for the Kane children. The Kanes were fortunate to live in a school zone with a quality elementary school. Many parents in the city do not see their neighborhood school as being “good enough” for their children. Many parents in the city are already planning their children’s college careers before they start kindergarten. They need to be assured that their neighborhood school can give their children the best possible start to their education. Therefore, any marketing campaign must be combined with a neighborhood by neighborhood, school by school, crusade to make that school “good enough.” We cannot continue to tolerate a school system where not all schools are that good.

4. The campaign should not be centralized. Since it is the neighborhood school that influences parental choice, the “Choice” campaign should be moved out of City Hall and centered in each of the city’s public schools. The principal and staff of each school should have the primary responsibility of “selling” their school to the parents in the school neighborhood. They will be helped, of course, by the school PTA and Citizens Advisory Group (in schools served by Communities in Schools). They will also need guidance on the marketing campaign from RPS headquarters. However, ultimately it will be the responsibility of school principals to assure that their schools are “good enough” and that the word gets out to the neighborhood.

This kind of campaign will put us closer to my visions for RPS—

· That it will provide a first-class education to all our children regardless of ethnicity or economic situation; and

· That all Richmond parents will see their neighborhood school as the school of choice for their children.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There would not be a campaign of this nature if all schools operated on the same level like Henrico and Chesterfield. Open Enrollment would not have to happen if parents felt that their children were getting a good education at any school no matter where they lived. Funding should be spread out to each school evenly, not based on the neighborhoods. RPS always has a deficit, and I haven't seen a new school since Holton.Kids feel like all they have to go to is this old building and they have nothing to look forward to. Right now I am having difficulty in making a decision for my child to move to middle school due his performance in one subject, and no type of communication from the school. RPS needs improvement from the administration to the teachers in the classroom. I feel that my childrens school goes downhill after the third grade.