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Stephen Decatur Middle School 35: Telling a Compelling School Story

7 min read
Oct 18, 2023 8:00:00 AM

How Stephen Decatur Middle School 35 used the power of their website to stand out in the highly competitive student enrollment environment of New York City.

In the bustling metropolis of New York City, public schools operate in the country’s largest school system — a system that serves nearly 1,000,000 students of all backgrounds.

Serving a student population that’s leagues larger than most U.S. cities presents a super-sized challenge for the 1,800 campuses within New York City Public Schools. And this challenge is made all the harder by a variety of factors:

  • Falling birth rates
  • Families moving out of New York City entirely
  • Competition from schools within the New York City Public Schools system itself
  • Competition from hundreds of charter schools, private schools, homeschooling options, and virtual schools outside the system

These factors have made it increasingly difficult for the large number of schools to attract and enroll the ever-shrinking pool of students in New York City. And with student enrollment and funding woven so tightly together, maintaining healthy enrollment is key to any school keeping its doors open.

But how can New York City’s public schools hope to compete? Turns out, increasing enrollment in public schools has significantly less to do with hope and much more to do with making student recruitment a priority. And that starts with communicating what makes your school unique.

In this post, you’ll learn how to do that through the example of one forward-thinking New York City school who’s mastered the art of storytelling — through their website.

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Standing Out in a Competitive Enrollment Environment

Amid record declining enrollment in New York City, standing out is a must for any school hoping to keep its campus open. And today, with 49% of parents beginning their search for a school via Google or a school review site (via Niche), standing out online is a must.

And the easiest way to do that is through a compelling school website. A school’s website serves as its digital storefront, often being the first (and sometimes only) point of contact for parents seeking information about a new school.

A well-designed, informative website is an opportunity to tell your school’s unique story. Done well, your story alone can drive parents to take the next step in their enrollment journey — whether that’s requesting more information, signing up for a school tour, or even charging forward with an enrollment application.

One such school who’s mastered the art of online storytelling is Stephen Decatur Middle School 35 (MS 35).

From Middle School to Magnet School

Located in Brooklyn, MS 35 serves grades 6–8. But in recent years, the school has been feeling the acute effects of declining enrollment. Between parents leaving New York City to the growth of local charter schools, MS 35 needed to change if they were to stand out.

That spark of change came in late 2022, when MS 35’s district, District 16, received exciting news: they were among three New York City school districts to secure federal magnet school funding.

MS 35 was one of two schools within District 16 to get the funding — and with this funding came an impressive new name: the Stephen Decatur Magnet School for Leadership, Exploration, and the Arts.

A Story is Born

MS 35 transformed into a magnet school with a focus on arts. This change not only improved the school’s academic offerings but also gave them a unique “value proposition” — that is, it gave them something different, something that would give them a competitive edge over all other schools in the area.

However, just becoming a magnet school wasn’t enough. MS 35 now needed to tell their story to their Brooklyn community.

To do that, they turned to the enrollment marketing experts at SchoolMint and implemented SchoolMint Engage.

MS 35 Uses Their Website to Stand Out

SchoolMint Engage offered MS 35 a way to create an add-on “microsite” to their existing school website. Also called an enrollment website or an enrollment landing page, this microsite’s primary goal was to give prospective parents a single place to learn why they should enroll in MS 35.

Here are the four things their microsite accomplished to help them tell their story and increase enrollment!

1. Answering the “Why”

From the start, MS 35’s enrollment site answers the most fundamental question any parent has when looking for a new school: Why should I choose you?

Answering this is perhaps the most important message you can put on your school’s website — and especially your enrollment page. In the screenshot below, you can see how MS 35 answers the all-important Why? right out the gate.

In fact, for families who want to learn even more (or perhaps need more convincing), MS 35 has a page dedicated solely to reinforcing why parents should choose them.

If you need help crafting your own story, check out this post, or schedule a free consultation with one of our enrollment experts, who’d love to discuss your enrollment challenges and opportunities.

2. Making a Promise

Showcasing your facilities and sharing your teachers’ cumulative years of teaching are all great things, but what every parent truly cares about is what you’re going to do for their child.

After answering the big “why,” MS 35 uses the following sections to not only further prove that why but also to reinforce what makes their school unique.

3. Explaining Their Offerings

In line with the previous point, another thing MS 35’s website effectively does is clearly communicate what they offer in a way that resonates with prospective parents.

In the screenshot below, MS 35 not only elaborates on their promise but also leans into the arts-enriched, project-based education they offer as a magnet school.

This next section takes MS 35’s story to the next level, shifting from the school’s educational offering to the fact they put students’ experiences first.

A section like this is critical on any effective enrollment page because it hits on what parents want in a new school: assurance that the environment will be a caring, safe one that promotes not just their child’s academic development but also their social–emotional growth.

4. Offering Ways for Parents to Engage

Having compelling messaging on a school website is great — but that’s just the beginning!

MS 35 knew this, and so the SchoolMint Engage team helped them create ways for parents to take the next step in their enrollment journey based on their level of interest:

  • Request an informational brochure
  • Register for a school tour
  • Schedule an appointment with MS 35’s enrollment coordinator
  • Begin an enrollment application

Each of these steps can happen on the site through the simple click of a button, which removes an all-too-common hurdle: having to pick up the phone.

By putting these basic tasks online, school staff save time on their end, and parents don’t have to deal with the frustration of undergoing multiple calls/emails just to receive an information packet or to confirm a school tour time and date.

Bonus: having functions like that on your site also gives parents a good first impression of your school and sends a message you’re easy to get in touch with — a critical piece of offering great customer service!

If you’re interested in understanding the current state of your school’s customer service, SchoolMint can help you through our secret shopper service. Not sure what that is? Learn more!

A Bright Future

We’re excited to see the results MS 35 has with their enrollment site by the end of the school year. They’ve mastered the art of telling their story online, and we know this will help them stand out in their competitive environment. Their enrollment future is bright as more and more parents learn about their new status as a magnet school!

To see what SchoolMint Engage can do for you, schedule a consultation with one of our friendly enrollment experts.

We would love to discuss the challenges you’re facing and explain how an enrollment website of your own can help you attract new families and increase enrollment!

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