Ask a dozen people to explain charter schools and you’ll get a variety of answers — many of which are incorrect.
Why all the confusion about charter schools?
It’s complicated — Are charter schools public schools? Are they private schools? Charters are public (but independently run) and like independent schools, students need to apply… prospective families are (understandably) confused.
A charter school is a tuition-free school that's publicly funded but operates independently. They began as an alternative to public school and their curriculum allows an extra degree of flexibility. Regardless, they are all held to high standards and to their governing charter.
Additionally, charter schools can differ widely from each other. For example:
- Some focus on college prep
- Some follow a Montessori curriculum
- Some integrate the arts into each subject
- Some require uniforms
- Some have longer school days, and
- Some teach their entire curriculum in two languages
Even though charter schools have been around since the ’90s, in recent years there has been a nationwide surge in popularity. Between 2009 and 2019, charter school enrollment increased from 1.6 million students to 3.4 million students, a number that grew the number of public charter schools from about 5,000 to 7,500.
But for the families exploring school choice options, charter schools are a new commodity. To engage more families, charter schools need to be more informative and descriptive in their marketing strategies and communications, and it all starts with your school’s website.
Helping Families Understand Your Charter School
As you plan your charter school's marketing plan, it's important to consider thoughtful design, messaging, navigation, and imagery. But above all, an important first step is clarifying your online messaging through your charter school’s website.
When building a website for your charter school, make sure you answer these questions:
- What sets your school apart?
- What’s Your charter school’s mission?
- What are your strengths?
- Who will be teaching and caring for my children?
- What does student success look like?
- Can families easily read the content on your charter’s website?
- Is the application process easy?
- Who governs the charter?
- How do you continue to engage your current families?
1. What sets your charter school apart?
Charter schools provide families with choices in public education. Families need to evaluate and understand what sets your school apart, and ultimately, decide if it would be a good fit for their child. Therefore, your school needs to remove barriers and complexities in your messaging and processes to help families make an informed choice.
Wesley International Academy in Atlanta, Georgia includes an infographic to show a quick at-a-glance summary of what sets them apart.
Innovations International Charter School answers the questions head-on: Why Innovations? This is followed by a scrollable panel with “Learn More” calls-to-action.
2. What’s your charter school’s mission?
It's important to clearly define your school's mission and communicate how it's different from other private and public school systems in your area. This can include your approach to teaching and learning, your curriculum, your goals for student achievement, and the values and principles that guide your school's culture.
Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, CA, shares its vision and mission on its homepage, with a mission panel that has a call-to-action to further define the Profile of an Eagle.
3. What are your charter school's strengths?
As you showcase your school to new families, focus on your school's strengths. This can include your academic programs, extracurricular activities, partnerships with community organizations, and other features that make your school stand out.
As you continue down Innovations International Charter School’s homepage, it features an interactive panel that highlights what makes their school unique. It’s engaging and informative and it leads prospective families down the path to learning more.
4. Who will be teaching and caring for my children?
Parents and students want to know more about the people they'll spend all their time with. Sharing information about your team is another sound way to help families relate to your school.
Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville, NC offers a searchable directory with images, short bios, and contact details for their staff.
Clayton Valley showcases powerful community voices on its homepage to help families feel at home and see how their students would be cared for during the day.
5. What does student success look like?
Parents want to know that their child will be successful at your school. Share success stories and testimonials from your students, such as high test scores, college acceptances, or community service projects. These stories can help families envision their child's future at your school.
Legacy Early College in Greenville, South Carolina showcases testimonials that include both current students and successful alumni.
6. Can families easily read the content on your charter’s website?
If your charter school has a large portion of non-native English speakers, users should be able to toggle your website into their native language. With tools like Weglot, translating your site’s content can be done in one click, and can make all the difference for prospective families.
Enlace Academy, a K-8 school outside Indianapolis, translates its site into multiple languages using Weglot, which integrates seamlessly with Finalsite’s content management system, Composer.
7. Is the application process easy?
Make it easy for families to understand your admissions process, enrollment deadlines, and any requirements or prerequisites for attending your school.
Granada Hills Charter School in California has an admissions landing page outlining the admissions and enrollment journey. From campus tours to enrollment deadlines, the information is broken down to help families navigate the process.
As families dive deeper, an inquiry page with a parent video and a short form allows families to request more information. With Finalsite Enrollment, charter schools can manage the entire process from inquiry and admission to running a lottery and enrollment.
Having an FAQ page is also important. Feather River Charter helps parents get immediate answers to their questions as they dive deeper into their website.
8. Who governs the charter?
Once again, Clayton Valley has an engaging page that includes a great photo of the board, board member bios and contact details, and links to important governance documents.
It’s a thoughtful page that breaks down important information so families can understand the governance and administrative information of your charter.
Austin Achieve tackles some of the tougher questions around charter schools in this nicely formatted page complete with sections and accordions so that families can quickly find answers to their pressing questions.
Westlake Academy in Westlake, Texas explores the charter school experience with a “Did You Know” page answering the most common questions.
9. How do you continue to engage your current families?
Once families are enrolled, the process is not over. Community engagement is a BIG part of many successful charter schools.
Birmingham Community Charter High School in California includes Community in their top-level navigation which links to an extensive parent section to drive engagement and action.
When marketing your charter school, be clear about your school's mission, values, and goals, as well as provide information about the curriculum, faculty, facilities, and extracurricular activities. With the help of Finalsite designers and our powerful CMS, you can create a website that establishes trust with potential students and their families, address their concerns, and encourages them to apply.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 12 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.