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March 17, 2017

3 min

Mark Holley

Increasing School Enrollment The Right Way In An Environment Hostile to Growth

I had some thoughts this morning I have often - how to grow a school product and brand in an oversaturated charter school market. Although the first answer is always to make a better product (school) and continually refine it by listening to our customers (parents and students), all while informing ourselves with our own data, there's more to it. There are far too many macroeconomic and regulatory pressures to simply build a better school product and expect commensurate returns on investment.

Charter schools are under constant attack by those who have an interest in the status quo; those who benefit most from the current situation in education remaining unchanged. And this doesn't just mean school districts. In fact, we partner with or work closely with several forward-thinking, outcome-oriented districts all over Southern California (here is one). But sadly, there are many out there - districts, unions, legislators, vendors, and even established charter schools - who just do not want or accept change, and in many cases schools are operating with the same business model they've been using since the turn of the century. And I'm not talking about the most recent turn of the century.

My cofounder Jessica Spallino and I have never been good at doing what the others do. Add in the fact that we're both way too strong-willed for our own good (not a shocker for any who know us, I know), and we're just square pegs in round holes in the edu industry at times. But moving on...

In the current charter school environment, most new enrollment growth comes through consolidation with other schools. Growth by contraction. Zero sum stuff. We see this as a common but flawed way to grow in the short term and a brand and school killer in the long-term as ideas are diluted and flexibility is traded for instant gratification and inorganic, unnatural and unscaled growth. It's a quick infusion of easy money that isn't sustainable. And students surely don't benefit.

This doesn't mean we're closed off to creative ways of growing our schools. But it does mean we're selective, and if a certain opportunity is presented to us that isn't a good fit for Method, and particularly our students, we aren't interested.

We believe in growing our schools the same way that students learn and grow - by mastering what they know and building from there. True education is a "test and learn" endeavor. Learning by doing, with successes and failures all mixed together forming an imperfect blend of learning through life experience.

Since opening Method, we've pivoted in some areas. We've completely thrown out some ideas we've had that didn't work, and we've doubled down in other areas when it was clear we were onto something. The students who stay with with us for an entire year gain, on average, 1.3 years of academic growth. Put another way, they grow 30% more than what would be considered the standard.

At times our methodical (see what I did there?) approach to enrollment growth has driven our authorizers (the districts that sponsor us, thus allowing us to operate) crazy. After all, a great concept and a school that gets results doesn't matter if it goes out of business due to low enrollment. But overall, the plan has worked. Very slow but steady growth is now being replaced with more rapid growth. And now it's up to us to remain nimble, flexible, and responsive, so that we can continue to grow in an already saturated market. And most importantly, so that our students do too.


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