- Portland, Oregon
- Day and boarding
- 865 students in grades PK-12
In each issue, The Yield profiles a member school, asking how its admission office tackles process and procedures and integrates trends and data into the decision-making process, marketing, recruitment and retention strategies. In this issue, Susan (“Susie”) Gundle, director of admissions and financial aid at Oregon Episcopal School (OR), shares her perspective.
You are leading an admission office that encompasses all areas of independent school admission: PK-12, day, boarding, and international. Do you have one strategic admission plan or multiple plans? Does your staff specialize? Are they crosstrained?
We have an overall enrollment management model, with a staff that specializes in each area of our enrollment work. We have an admission associate whose focus is pre-Kindergarten through grade 5; an associate for our middle school (grades 6-8); an upper school associate who focuses on boarding; and as the director, I focus on upper school day admission. This model has proven successful, with support staff for each associate. We have an admission coordinator who supports our student upper and lower school visits as well as lower school assessments. Our middle school associate manages the middle school visit days. We also have a strong technological support system—our assistant director of admission and financial aid is also the person who oversees our data and serves as our financial aid contact person. She does the calculations for awards using NAIS-SSS system. Even though our staffers are focused on specific areas, we are all cross-trained to fill in when needed.
In recent years you have added staff to the admission team. How were you able to convince your head of school to invest in people for the admission office?
In the recent past, we totally reconfigured our admission team. It was necessary to do this in order to capitalize on everyone’s strengths, and it was also an opportunity to bring new team members on board to enhance the work that we do. I am fortunate that my head of school is very supportive and aware of the importance of enrollment, so creating a new model for our team was an exercise that I approached with enthusiasm and optimism. Backing up the model with appropriate data was crucial to the plan. We are now in a much better position to give every inquiry and applicant the attention they deserve and manage the applications in an efficient manner.
How did you take stock of skills/talent you had on staff and those you needed to add? Did you identify any specific skills you needed?
I identified the skills we were in need of enhancing, audited the overall workload of the admission staff, reviewed our data, and focused on areas we needed to improve. It was necessary to move some people into new roles, and add staff to fill in other positions.
OES has long recruited international students. What are the most significant changes to this student population? Do you treat international applicants differently?
International recruitment is complicated, because so many of our applicants are from China. We try to give all applicants equal attention, but that sometimes proves challenging when we have such a large number of qualified applicants from one geographical area. Our goal is to increase geographical diversity to our boarding population. This is the “never ending” discussion and concern when we look at our application numbers and inquiries internationally.
What advice do you have for schools new to international student recruitment?
Have a plan. Know what your goals are, the areas of the world from which you want to attract students, how best to recruit students from those areas, and how you will manage the applications when they arrive.
What is a “typical” visit like for families?
We structure our visits differently for each division. We offer full-day student visits in our upper school beginning in October. The student need not be an applicant before coming to visit, so we have a large number of visitors we accommodate each admission season. Our philosophy is that an upper school student plays a big part in the decision of “fit,” so experiencing our school for a day plays an important role in that decision. The student is matched with an ambassador, who takes him or her around the entire day. During that time, the visitor is interviewed by one of our upper school faculty, and at the end of the day, there is a debrief with the director of admission. In our middle school, we offer visit days for applicants only. The students come in groups and are matched with a student ambassador. There is a portion of the day when we offer a group time with provocations, and we watch how the students interact and collaborate with others. In lower school, we offer daylong visits for applicants to grades 2-5. They spend the day with one student host, and the classroom teacher and various specialist teachers observe them throughout the day. Our beginning school applicants are welcomed for a morning visit, where we create a “mini OES experience,” with our classroom teachers and specialists observing readiness behaviors. We offer family campus tours, and our upper, middle, and lower schools also offer group tours for parents only, led by the associate for that division.
The OES tagline, “always open” is interesting. Please explain.
I love to talk about our branding and who we are as a community. “Always Open” is a perfect branding phrase for OES. We are continually promoting inclusion and diversity, creating an environment that is truly “always open.” These are the points that differentiate OES:
Inquiry Asking questions and being open to the answers
Inclusivity Welcoming all cultures, religions, and nationalities
Intentional Community Learning to find your own place in the world, and at the same time, be open to others
Truth in the Middle Developing self-confidence without being rigid
Power for Good The importance of acting with integrity and using your gifts to help others
Spiritual Development Encourage children to openly explore spiritual issues and arrive at their own conclusions
Meet The Team
Susie Gundle, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Susie is entering into her seventh year as director of admissions and financial aid at OES, after serving on the development team for seven years. She has a long relationship with the school, having three sons who were “lifers.” She graduated from Portland State University, and has worn the many hats of teacher, entrepreneur, school administrator, mother, and spouse. Her experience serving OES in many capacities enhances her enrollment efforts.
Jennifer Bash, Assistant Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Jen is entering her 11th year at OES, having served in multiple roles, including dorm parent, before stepping into the admission office in 2009. Jen has been involved in almost all aspects of the admission office, including upper school admission, data analysis for board reports, financial aid, and coordinating marketing efforts. This past year, she spearheaded the team’s move to paperless application files and online file reading using Google Drive. Her husband Deri is the associate head of the upper school, and they have two daughters enrolled at OES.
Carla Zilaff, Admissions Assistant for Analytics and Marketing
Helen Mallette, Upper School Admissions Associate
Bonnie Brennan, Middle School Admissions Associate
Sarah Ross-Bailly, Lower School Admissions Associate
Molly Mulkey, Admissions Administrative Assistant
Madeleine Jennings, Admissions Coordinator