Advancement & Engagement Director International School of Paris
CK: The International School of Paris is part of a larger international school community in Paris which has existed for many decades (core group of international schools established post WWII) and which work together in areas such as sports, service projects and French government recognition of international school programmes. Our role within our local (Parisian) community is strengthened through our student and community service action projects and how we embrace the International Baccalaureate key programme elements of inquiry, action and reflection.
Within the ISP community, the school is perceived as being an experienced, wholly welcoming and proud proponent of international mindedness, student wellbeing and diversity. These perceptions have not necessarily changed dramatically over the years, but our community desire for the impact of our school actions to be felt more strongly outside the school certainly has become more and more of a shared goal. This means we seek to engage and interact with the issues that affect us all in Paris, whether that be climate change, the refugee crisis, work experience and local businesses or issues stemming from COVID-19. On this, we have made many good steps over a number of years, but, of course, still have a long way to go to continue to build deeper and more impactful partnerships with local schools, associations and government agencies.
BD: For a while, we were considered the new, American school. That perception has changed over the years as we seek to exhibit our identity in the following priority:
We desire to produce students who will positively impact the school, community, nation, and world; appreciate the unique qualities of the diverse world and celebrate shared values; express an intrinsic desire for learning in and beyond the classroom; and, pursue creativity and originality in their work and life. In all that we do regarding our perception, we seek to showcase these student learning outcomes as the reality of what is happening at our school.
AK: The National Mathematics and Science College is a relatively young school, having only opened around 4 years ago, so the way the College is perceived by the various communities it is part of has changed a lot. The College was established to provide elite STEM education to the best and brightest students from around the world, a reputation it has now cemented following some excellent results during its early years, coupled with our alumni going on to study at top universities. Our biggest challenge, being so young, is making sure people have heard of us in the first place, which is as true on our doorstep as it is internationally.
CK: We feel quite strongly that a high-touch and individualized admissions process is a key factor to differentiating our school and adequately explaining our pedagogical focus, guiding statements and strategic action plan to prospective families. What we have tried to do in recent years is enhance the storytelling element of this process – through a large-scale virtual tour project last summer (2020), a new webinar series in English and French, and a deeper focus on student transitions and wellbeing, especially for new and mid-year arrivals, to name a few recent initiatives. We also began in recent years to strongly focus on our alumni experience and creating stronger institutional links and ways for different ISP generations to be able to interact and share their experiences (e.g. this past year through our Career Day which was held as an interactive, video game experience, or a social justice conversation with our alumni and student-led Social Justice group at school). These actions are not necessarily designed to have any particular short-term impact on admissions numbers, but, rather, provide a clearer understanding as to who we are as a school community, and what we can offer our families, both during their time in Paris at ISP, and beyond. This has provided the admissions process with a longer-term vision and way of engaging families in a discussion about international education, language learning, career development and community action.
AK: Given the College is still relatively young, much of the work on enhancing our identity is around awareness. Even in the local area, we are relatively unknown despite having the best A-level results for around 100 miles in any direction. As a result, profile raising has been one of the key activities this year, which we’ve approached in various ways. Establishing external validation by applying for membership of the prestigious ‘Society of Heads’ and the Boarding Schools Association is one strategy. Alongside this we’re also being reviewed by Good Schools Guide. All of this helps show the College as being an established part of the UK independent educational scene. Additionally, as our students are often not able to visit the College (particularly at the moment) before joining us, a priority for this year was putting together high-quality video content which shows off the College. This enables them to imagine themselves with us before they arrive. The sense of fit and emotional connection is so important to the decision making process of choosing a school, and helping students and their families do this at a distance is key. Whilst it’s early days, we are already beginning to see increased interest from the work, and increasingly when I speak to people it’s not the first time they’ve heard of the College, so things are heading in the right direction.
CK: Like all departments, admissions needed to quickly adapt to a fully online presence, including using virtual meetings and other technology to share our learning environment with new and prospective families. We also had to quickly adapt to the new volatility that COVID-19 brought to our enrollment management process, as we typically have a very significant percentage of new families that join our school each year, including mid-year moves. As of March 2020, much, if not all, of this was put on hold as so many moves were delayed or cancelled. This made understanding the nuanced details of our pipeline even more important so that we could accurately advise on space availability in different grades and, most importantly, to support as much as possible a flexible admissions process that may involve direct to online learning, support through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and liaising with families in regard to medical questions or COVID-19 protocols. In this light, we worked quite closely with our nursing staff and our PTA to provide these additional layers of information to help ease the stress and burden of the move. The lesson we learned is that our community is only made stronger in times of challenge. And whilst we cannot predict the future, we can systematically prepare for different scenarios and manage the stress around the ‘new normal’ we are all experiencing.
BD: We fully embraced the “new normal”: in addition to our pre-existing paperless application system, we implemented virtual tours, testing, open days, and orientation. Therefore, the entire process, from seeing an ad to being in class, can now be done virtually. Regarding lessons for the future, we learned the necessity of being flexible and ensuring our process makes sense for our international community and target market.
AK: COVID-19 has brought many challenges to the admissions team, but the biggest challenge for us has almost certainly been the inability to travel. As a College which recruits boarding students from around the world, we’d normally have people attending recruitment events and fairs around the world nearly every week of the year! Most of these events have sadly been cancelled, with some replaced with virtual Zoom-based events. Whilst a few of these events have worked well they are nowhere near as effective as meeting people face-to-face.
The restrictions have also meant that it’s been difficult to get families to visit the College. We were fortunate to be able to get a film crew into the College in early October and update all our videos, and we’ve been remotely invigilating entrance exams over Zoom which is a novel challenge. We continue to adapt, something the education sector has always done well! I think the importance of high-quality video content is something we continue to prioritise post-covid.
CK: Our team is very lucky in that we have worked together for many years in a supportive school structure that provides for new initiatives and supports our many successful processes. That said, there remain many challenges, especially involving data management as we are a bit siloed from other departments. We try quite hard to navigate these challenges by engaging our colleagues in our projects and processes as early as possible – this is as much for their appreciation of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ as to have some outside perspectives and – yes – critical friends! We found that this year what was especially challenging with the different health protocols and working from home requirements was that much of our informal socialization with colleagues was dramatically reduced or eliminated. We realized just how much we normally share during lunch or in impromptu after-work conversations, and that we need these essential moments as much as the planned, formal meetings with set agendas, in order for us to all appreciate the different projects (and pain points!) we have. Hopefully, 2021-22 will provide more of the return of these social opportunities, but in their absence, we will try to make ‘virtual spontaneity’ a higher priority!
BD: The Admissions Department continuously balances expectations from leadership, the Business Office, teachers, parents, students, and any other stakeholder involved in the life cycle of the school. To navigate these different expectations, we do the following:
AK: Confusion and misconceptions are always an issue when working in the global market. Titles which make sense in one country are meaningless in others. Many of my admissions colleagues have carried multiple titles depending on where they are in the world. One day they might be the ‘director of admissions’, and the next they are the ‘registrar’. This is important so that they are enabled to have the right conversations with the right people wherever they are in the world. Closer to home, it’s easy for colleagues to forget that everyone needs to be involved in the admissions and recruitment process. Schools only exist because our incredible admissions and marketing colleagues do such a good job ensuring there are pupils to be taught at the start of every year. Huge amounts of pressure can sometimes be placed on the admissions team’s shoulders to ensure the school is full, often without them having the influence to make changes. Making sure that recruitment is seen as a central part of everyone’s job is therefore crucial. Admissions and marketing must be fully integrated into school life as, without everyone working together, the recruitment process, and therefore the school, will never be as successful as it might otherwise be!