Monday, January 23, 2012

'Tis the Season

It’s that time of year again – admissions season.  I have to say that I am one of the few independent school administrators that I know who truly enjoys the admissions process.   I enjoy it foremost because we get to meet terrific new and really interesting families who will bring their enthusiasm and passion to school life.  I also love the opportunity to show off a great school, of which I am incredibly proud.

I really enjoy admissions when families take their time to truly investigate our school and engage in a thoughtful period of reflection to discover a fit at Harding.  Seeing that ‘click’ is incredibly rewarding.  Occasionally, I hear the process compared to sorority rush and I immediately cringe.  My greatest hope that families find that it’s nothing of the sort.  Instead of feeling that they are being ‘sold’ on a school I hope that parents feel as though Harding is trying to truly get to know them and provide them all of the information they need to make a thoughtful decision.

We also learn a great deal from prospective parents. For example, when I asked one family what appealed to them about Harding they explained that they loved the idea that at our school we were being evaluated, essentially, by all of our peer high schools when our graduates go through the process after 8th grade, and that seems to make us more thoughtful and intentional. I thought that was a great sentiment and hadn’t really thought about it in that way before, but have found it to be true.

There are few questions from parents that stump me any more, but there are certainly a few for which I have never really found a great answer.  For example, when someone says, “How would you compare yourself with school X?” I talk about the logistical differences between our schools – secular, single sex, different grade configurations, etc. but I always feel like it’s up to a family to answer that question through their own school-visit exploration.  We have great peer schools in Nashville and I don’t ever want to seem as though I am disparaging another school with my answer.

Another question that is always tough for me is, “How would you describe Harding in one or two words?”  I always wonder if perhaps the person is in a hurry or has a fairly short attention span  - why else would it need to be one or two words?  I always seem to make up a heavily hyphenated word like nurturinglyintentionallyrigorouslycommunity-oriented.  In my mind, if I could describe the school that you will partner with for the next nine years - in arguably the most significant developmental time of your child’s life - in one or two words, you probably wouldn’t want to choose it.

In the end, though, it comes down to the right fit.  The right fit for families is important, of course, but the key is to focus on the right fit for the child.  Admitting a child, though they may likely struggle, because a family is wonderful or connected is always a recipe for disaster.  When a school focuses on the child first, whether in planning curriculum, hiring, creating policy or making decisions in admissions, it can’t go wrong.