At first blush,it would seem like a public school of choice would have no need for advice from a marketing guru. TOPA is about educating students and giving parents a distinct choice,theoretically,the marketing would take care of itself. However,every now and then Seth’s blog seems to speak to what we as an administration and board go through when developing and running a school. Here is one of his latest entries:
The mathematical impossibility of universal delight
Jack Nicholson calls it,“rabbit ears.” If you’re hyper-aware of what others are thinking,if you’re looking for criticism,the unhappy audience member and the guy who didn’t get the joke, you will always find what you’re seeking. For it to be any other way,you’d either have to be invisible or performing for a totally homogeneous audience. Invisible is an option,of course. You can lay low,not speak up and make no difference to anyone. That’s sort of like dividing by zero,though. You’ll get no criticism,but no delight either. As for finding a homogeneous audience,good luck with that. The one thing that’s true of all people is that they are different from one another. What delights one enrages the other. Part of the deal. -Seth
So what does this have to do with running a school? Long before TOPA opened its doors,the founders sat down at the table and made lists;lists of deficiencies we knew we had as founders and who could fill those deficiencies, lists of logistical and tactical strategies that we knew we would need input from parents and teachers about once we opened our doors,and a list of nonnegotiables. The focus of this blog is the third list,the programs and curriculums that are so deeply embedded in both our contract with the state of Arizona and in our basic core philosophies that drove us to starting the school in the first places. These components would need to be the basis for all decision making and be the foundation for any TOPA school,regardless of geography. These are our curriculums and programs (ie,Singapore Math,Core Knowledge,IB and MYP,Peaceful Playground,Responsive Classroom,Love and Logic,to name a few). When discussing anything,whether it be in board meetings or administration and staff meetings,two questions are always asked: 1) Is this in keeping with our philosophies? 2) Will this help our scholars get through college? As Seth mentions above,“What delights one enrages the other.” We learned early on that when we would bend on one thing for one group of parents,we made the silent group who were happy with the way things were running upset. It became clear for every parent who believed something should be run one way,there was another one who appreciated it the way it was. One of the most frequently asked questions we get when a new parent enrolls is “do you bend to certain groups of vocal parents,or do your principles run the schools?”Our answer is simple,we always listen to parents and take their suggestions,however,we will never deviate from our guiding principles and programs because they are why parents are drawn to our school in the first place.
So what was our solution? Educate the parents,let them in,let them read and see what it is we do and why we do it. We hand out program descriptions and philosophies at Open House,we put them on the website,we hold Core Knowledge Nights to help parents understand our approaches to learning,we have Curriculum Corners once a month for parents to come and ask questions and learn,we send our the Principal’s Corner once a month with messages from the school’s administration,we blog as often as we can,and we link articles and research on our Facebook and Twitter page. We want people to understand and know why we are different and why we chose the programs we did. We understand fully that TOPA is not for everyone, it is ok. We understand that we cannot please everyone,it is ok. We are here to offer a choice for parents,but we won’t please everyone. We know this and,it is ok. We don’t have invisible parents,we have wonderful parents,parents who did the research and bought in,parents who recognized we weren’t going to look like their neighborhood school and accepted it,parents who sacrificed the conveniences and familiarities of what they knew of public education for something better. As always,we at TOPA are so grateful to our families who have helped build the school and who continue to just dig in,roll up their sleeves,and say “what still needs to be done?” You will never know how much we appreciate all your support!