NORTH SMITHFIELD – From brochures and flyers posted throughout the community, to a series of videos documenting life in town schools, Supt. Michael St. Jean said he’s hopeful that the promotional materials rolled out this week demonstrate that the North Smithfield is ” a community dedicated to academic excellence.”
A promotional package, developed for the district over the past year and a half by communications consulting firm Martin & Associates, went live this week.
“We’re very excited,” St. Jean told members of the School Committee at a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25.
St. Jean said that the district’s communication plan began in 2018 with parent, teacher, and student surveys, interviews, and focus groups and communications assessments.
“We also held customer service training for office staff,” he later told NRI NOW.
This year, St. Jean said the focus was on recruitment, retention, and pride.
“We have some of the highest ranked schools in the state and want to share our students and teachers accomplishments,” said St. Jean. “We have implemented new programs and curriculum.”
“There is so much positive momentum within the district that deserves to be shared with the community.”
Like many districts across the state, North Smithfield has also developed the marketing plan, at least in part, in reaction to the school choice initiative, which allows students to enroll in programs outside of their town – and asks the school department to pick up the cost.
The rise of Career & Technical Education programs has created competition between districts that often, already operate with tight budgets.
“In an era of school choice where every student who leaves is money lost and every student who enrolls is money gained, we want to retain our students within North Smithfield as well as attract new students,” said St. Jean.
The Burrillville School District also hired Martin & Associates at a cost of $15,000 to help advertise their CTE programs and produce a series of videos that were released last year. The firm has also reportedly done work for public schools in Cumberland, Lincoln, Pawtucket, North Providence and Scituate, and Mount Saint Charles Academy.
In North Smithfield, the School Committee approved a budget of $15,000 to create a marketing strategy in July of 2019.
The PR work began with the development of a unique logo, and now a distinct “N/S” on top of school colors, yellow and green, has been placed on everything from the district’s Facebook page, to each school’s individual website.
New videos taken at North Smithfield Elementary School include testimony from both teachers and students.
But the main impetus behind the marketing and communications initiative is promotion of the high school’s CTE programs: coursework approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education that allows kids to gain hands-on experience and earn college credits.
North Smithfield’s RIDE-approved programs include business and finance, music, and pre-engineering, and newly-developed fact sheets lay out the coursework and highlights of each.
Parents can also learn about the school and the programs offered through roughly three-minute video clips.
“This will support families that come to our CTE web page who are looking for more information,” St. Jean explained.
A brochure describing North Smithfield as “a community dedicated to academic excellence,” lays out the statistics, noting that 90 percent of NSHS students plan to attend secondary school after graduation. Student SAT scores are above the state average, and U.S. News and World reports ranked NSHS among the top five high schools in Rhode Island.
A flyer notes that the 104 graduating seniors in Class of 2019 earned $4,600,000 in grants and scholarships.
“This is an impressive number, and certainly something we want to highlight,” said St. Jean.
In addition to distributing the new materials to the town’s middle school families, St. Jean said the district will pay for advertising to promote to parents in other towns.
“I’m going to target the communities around us,” he said.
The superintendent noted that in the future, he’s hopeful the high school students themselves will get involved in the project.
“As much as we like the work that was done by our PR firm, we’d like our students to make some creative content,” he said.