From Memberanda, Summer 2013
Interview with administrators at Proctor Academy Andover, a coed 9-PG boarding and day school in New Hampshire.
Have you increased the size of the admission staff in the last five years?
Our staff has remained the same over the past five years, while the involvement of others within the community in helping the admission team has increased. This includes teachers, coaches, administrators, and staff. We have worked very hard to communicate within the community that we are ALL part of the admission team!
Have you changed the admission staff in the last five years (created new positions, eliminated others?)
There is a challenge for boarding schools right now. The field is requiring a more specialized skill set in terms of data collection and analysis, social media creation and content generation, marketing, communications, and strategic planning.At the same time, as a boarding school, we need our team to engage within the school community as advisors, coaches, dorm parents, etc. Identifying people with that unique combination of skills and interests is a challenge!
Compared with colleague schools, do you feel you are on par staffing-wise?
We are starting to really look at our staffing needs through a “seasonal” lens, and it has become clear that we require different skills during various times of year. The fall is the time of year when we need people in the office who can travel to school fairs, conferences (such as the SSATB Annual Meeting, IECA, and TABS), conduct school visits, host open houses, meet consultants, and interview students on campus. During the winter our days are filled with back-to-back interviews and reading applications. There is a “crunch time” when we are interviewing during the day and reading files at night leading up to March 10th decisions. In the spring, we keep track of our enrollment numbers, monitor attrition, and adjust changing budget numbers. We gather data to present at spring trustee meetings and faculty meetings, do some travel, and plan our communications for enrolling families. Staying in tune with incoming families and guiding them from admission to the start of the school year is an increasingly time-consuming job.
What other responsibilities does the admission staff have outside of the admission office?
We all serve as student advisors, which requires seeing our advisees at least four days each week during our all-school meetings. Four members of our team coach at least one season, two are full-time dorm parents, and three serve as weekend administrators on duty or dorm adjuncts. Admission at a boarding school requires us to straddle the line between being “inside” and “outside” the school at all times. As admission offices become more professionalized, there is still the tension of wanting/needing to stay connected to students and the community, while spending more time traveling, working with families, etc. This is the tension we are all experiencing within schools.
Do you have regular staff meetings?
We meet weekly as an office and have a consistent agenda that includes “micro” issues such as reviewing the next week’s visitors or upcoming events, as well as looking at some “macro” issues such as strategic planning for our office, communications, and data gathering.
Do you conduct staff evaluations?
We conduct staff evaluations at the end of every academic year (mid-May). It allows us to look at every person’s strengths and weaknesses and assess how we can utilize his/her skills better within the office. We really enjoy this process, because everyone comes to the meetings with a self-evaluation. We ensure that everyone is on the same page and is communicating. We are responsible for creating our own goals for professional growth and see the evaluation process as a growth opportunity and not a threatening experience.
Have you/your team identified any specific skills that you would like to build/improve either individually or collectively to aid your work?
We have recognized that we need to get better at collecting and evaluating data. We believe this will guide our travel, use of marketing resources, and identification of our target markets more effectively. SSATB and TABS have both been great at helping us gather data to inform our schools and board.
Other than conferences/workshops/advanced degrees, what do you do to build skills?
Christina: After reading SSATB’s 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry report, I realized how important it was to continue my own education. Even after finishing my master’s degree in public administration, which included a number of business courses (statistics, strategic planning, human resources, etc.), I still need to do additional research on marketing and data collection/evaluation. I have started to look into some online courses, as well as downloading books to read throughout the year.
Chris: Industry reports have become invaluable in identifying areas of concern and trends. I use these as starting points for skill building and influence. As an example, SSATB’s 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry report helped to drive our board to create an admission and financial aid subcommittee for our board. Our board has a wealth of knowledge and experience working in the areas of marketing, advertising, social media, etc. Our board leadership better understands the pressures facing our schools regarding recruitment, tuition, marketing, and the expectations of families.
What is your greatest challenge for the coming year?
As a small admission team with somewhat limited resources, we have to realize that we cannot do everything. That being said, the customer is always priority one. What we know is that families today demand much more personalized communication, which is time consuming. Building a system of communication that has multiple touches and is “automatic” is our biggest goal. Keeping families “engaged” from inquiry to enrollment takes planning, organization, and diligence. We know we need to improve in order to remain competitive with our peers. A “drip” marketing strategy will help us improve our communication.
Chris heading off on sabbatical is a great opportunity for us to systematize his knowledge. When a person has been in a role for a long time, much of the knowledge and relationships become internalized, which can have a downside. Ensuring that we are all “replaceable” is critical to the smooth functioning of any organization.
How do you plan to overcome it?
Planning, planning, and more planning! With prospective families taking up more and more of our daily bandwidth, it is critical to spend any “down time” planning for the coming year. This is a difficult discipline for any profession but necessary in our role in admission.
What was your greatest challenge last year and how did you tackle it?
Like many schools, we are facing an increasing number of families applying for financial aid. The financial aid process is starting to become less about “demonstrated need” and more about the individual family’s willingness to pay and the school’s willingness to fund the individual student. Competitor schools are increasingly rolling out merit programs, and we often feel caught in the middle. We had many heated discussions within our office about managing enrollment and being true to our financial aid guidelines, while also being competitive in an increasingly challenging marketplace. We are fortunate to be a school that has been able to attract full-pay families, but financial aid is such a powerful tool in shaping and balancing the school community we want to create. This conversation will only become more focused in the coming year.
Another big challenge at Proctor relates to “enrollment management,” as we have 25-35 students off campus each term. (Ocean Classroom, Mountain Classroom, Proctor in Spain, EuropeanArt Classroom, Cloud Forest School in Costa Rica). The composition of these groups (especially in the fall) dictates our overall configuration of students (boys/girls, boarding/day) for the year. Managing this changing group of students with the budget set by the board is a juggling act starting in the spring and not resolving itself until the start of school. We face housing “crunches” at times based on these moving enrollments. It is a unique challenge we face at Proctor with the admission office constantly monitoring these moving pieces. However, having these programs is a huge driver for our successful enrollment!
Name of School: Proctor Academy
School Type: Non-denominational, Coed, Boarding/Day
Enrollment Size: 360 Boarding, 275 Day
Grades Served: 9-PG
8 full-time members; 1 part-time member
Chris Bartlett, Director of Admission— Chris has been working in the Proctor admission office for 17 years. Chris jumped at the chance to return to his alma mater after working at Berkshire School for two years. He graduated from Allegheny College in 1990. He will be on sabbatical for the 2013-14 academic year, and during that time he is looking forward to visiting family in Australia.
Christina Dotchin, Interim Director of Admission and Director of Financial Aid— Christine is entering her ninth year in the Proctor admission office. Christina recently completed her master’s degree in public administration from the University of New Hampshire. She graduated from Colby College in 2004, where she was a two year captain of the women’s ice hockey team. She coached the Proctor girls’ ice hockey team for the past eight years and is a surrogate dorm parent and advisor.
Hunter Churchill, Assistant Director of Admission—Hunter is entering his third year in the Proctor admission office. Hunter graduated from Proctor Academy (2001) and the University of New Hampshire. He is also a dorm parent, hockey coach, lacrosse coach, and advisor.
Alison Chadbourne–Assistant Director of Admission
Corey Cooper–Admission Intern
Charlie Durell–Admission Office Coordinator
Avery Hoglund (Part time)–Assistant Director of Admission
Faye Okma–Admission Office Manager