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Independent schools have a prime opportunity to increase enrollment right now. Trust in government agencies is mixed to low, and the importance of individualism is trending upwards past even science in some areas. While that trend might give all educators a tight feeling in pro-vaccination chests, the crisis of identity is leading more families to look for non-public school options.

You’re going to have to look for solutions, because you are independent and not as “lucrative” to edtech companies. You will also have to get creative because you may not get the big breaks that a large district can (discounts for larger orders, for example).

Competition

On the flip side, there are more options now, too. For the last two decades public schools have had to compete not only with private and parochial schools, but as the newcomer.

Moreover, there’s been a jump in homeschooling. Homeschooling was once the last resort of the fringe religious sect. It was also utilized for incapacitated students unable to thrive in a normal school setting. Today, homeschooling is quite popular with many parents.

In a recent study reported in nheri.org, the growth of homeschooling looks like a threatening storm:

Graph originally from “Homeschooling Growing: Multiple Data Points Show Increase 2012 to 2016 and Later”
April 20, 2018 by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.

With the push and pull between individual rights to choose how a child is educated and the state’s need to have well-educated, prepared future citizens, Independent schools have an opportunity. To not see the great opportunity growing out of the public’s distrust of the public school system would be a mistake. When developing a technology plan, competitiveness must be of the highest priority, just after efficacy.

Money/tuition

Obviously one of the biggest roadblocks in the era of stagnant wages and uncertain fiscal futures is the tuition barrier. As the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, independent schools must find ways to reach good students whose families can’t afford to pay out the usual tuition.

The evidence of this mistrust is clear in the rise of homeschool and online school students. The barriers to private or religious education may well only be financial. Charters and schools of choice have been a bit of a stop-gap but still have not solved the issues that parents wish to see resolved. If parents have an opportunity to get their kids into a school that they have chosen, many more would do so.

At the same time, since there is that cost issue, there is stiff competition for independent schools, as well as a leeriness of parents to trust a school that is not being monitored closely – if at all – by the government. Since the standards set up for public schools do not automatically apply to independent schools, some parents can feel wary of them, thinking that the teachers may not be as well-prepared to teach.

Along with that is the old idea of the stuffy private school a la School Ties or Dead Poets Society. The idea is that parents are somehow disloyal to their neighborhoods by not having their kids in public school. Although parents enrolling their children in religious schools ostensibly get a pass, as it is a religious matter in this case, there are still negative connotations to getting your kids into private school. As such, there are a mountain of obstacles that private schools must overcome in order to be appealing to the middle and upper class in America.

You must make yourselves competitive. Educational Technology can help, but only if it is planned wisely and thoughtfully and remains within your mission.

Accessibility

Even if you don’t think that your students need accessible websites, their parents, guardians, and other people invested in their well-being may. Someone may want to check the basketball schedule. A potential new family may want to learn more about your school. There are lots of benefits to having a great website that can be read and understood regardless of sightedness, hearing levels, or mobility.

Moreover, to not do something simply because as an independent school you are not required by law to make certain adjustments is admitting that you are willing to do the bare minimum to get by. Why would parents wish to pay out of pocket for the bare minimum? Doing the right thing here will sharpen your competitive edge. Plus, there are lots of stakeholders who need accessibility adjustments in order to read your website. It’s just good business sense.

Look for edtech that will:

  • Streamline your accounting, assessment, reporting, marketing, communications, and other processes.
  • Are single sign-ons so that students and employees can access all of their digital tools with a single password and username combination.
  • Are relatively simple to use, learn, execute, update and (if necessary) install.
  • Lean towards web-based, cloud based stuff, like Microsoft Office 365 for Education (which as an added bonus is FREE!).
  • Look for free or low-cost stuff – there is so much of it.
  • Research to see what others are doing with this. Places like EdShelf can help.

Questions to Ask

What do your teachers and staff think they need? Survey the troops so you can understand what’s happening on the ground plus get an idea of the time commitment that new technology training might entail.

Where is digitization CRUCIAL?

Do you need more actual space in the building? Are the paper reports that you’re using inefficient?

Is this a want or a need?

Learn to know the difference. One way to prioritize is to imagine what would happen if you didn’t upgrade or replace the technology that you currently have, or if you invested in the iPads. What happens next? Do things fall apart if you don’t improve your school’s network capabilities? Does literacy automatically improve when you buy tablets? This thought experiment also shows you what needs to accompany the new technology in order for it to be beneficial.

How does this fit in with our school’s overall mission?

Your mission is the heart and soul of your school and everything that you plan should grow out from that central philosophy. Don’t lose your identity in the rush to be competitive.

Always Remember

Empower and support educators. Don’t pick something too complicated or time-consuming to use. Also, allow some leeway. Maybe budget a bit of discretionary funding and allow departments to choose a few software programs that will be especially helpful for their area. You must remain a competitive employer, too, if you are going to be able to compete against large public districts with contracts, unions, better benefits, and higher pay.

Teachers are what make a school work properly. The best thing to do is have continuity from year-to-year by having the familiar faces of competent, happy teachers. Educators already burn out pretty quickly, but they leave independent schools more readily than public schools. Remember to treat them well and reflect on how new technology will affect them.

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