Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Branding" New Bedford Public Schools - by Bill Lacey

In my previous piece I projected an opinion of how I feel that our school system has lost its “brand” appeal for too many students, too many families. Global brand marketing has become an enormous industry resulting in our desire to own iAnything, McStuff and Honey BooBuzz. 

(Okay, that last one was over the line. I’m sorry.)

Just the same, there’s an element of truth here, you know. We’ve all got Mad Men Syndrome. We love to own the popular. We long to align ourselves with the best. We need to belong to the “in crowd”. If we didn’t, there would be 8 minutes missing from every half hour of television programming. U.S. News & World Report would weigh 20% less for every mail carrier. Billboards along Rt. 66 would be replaced by… (gasp!)…trees!!!

But, of course, that’s pretty unrealistic. “Brand” is here to stay.

Even in times of economic distress, companies continue to feed their ad department’s budgets because they know that the first thing people do when the product disappears from the media is…


We’re a fickle primate, we humans. If we weren’t, why would people have pre-ordered an iPhone 5 before its features were even released?

“Branding”, like all politics, is local, too.

When I was a kid, cyclamates were suggested to cause cancer in lab rats. Just the same, America drank its fill of “skinny” soft drinks sweetened with cyclamates. When the Ford Motor Company learned that their economy vehicle, the Pinto, was likely to burst into flames incinerating its occupants from rear-end crashes, as low in speed as 20 mph, they swept it under the rug and upped production…and advertising, for five more years. When the citizenry of New Bedford was promised that the Charter School would present a better education for their children…

Meanwhile, the NBPS failed to see the consumer being swayed by the sell. Our leaders, despite some likely objections to my assertion, dropped the ball early in the first and walked off the field. How many kids is “too many kids” transferring to the Charter School?

All of them.

If you read back to my first post in this thought process, you’ll see that I have promised a personal framework of a plan. I’ll be upfront and tell you it’s a pretty simplistic start, but it’s a start…

I believe that when a family comes to us requesting a transfer to the Charter School, an immediate moratorium of 72 hours should occur. In other words, a three-day waiting period during which time we provide that family with a side-by-side comparison of the schools they are leaving, compared item for item, with the one they are choosing. School scores to school scores. Teacher specifics to teacher specifics. Turnover rate to turnover rate. Dropout rate to dropout rate. Show them the facts…

Then, if they still want to leave, have them sign a document stating that they fully understand the implications of choosing a school that graduates only 20% of its students. A school declared Level 3 by the DESE.  Make them initial it, line by line, point by point.

This is the ‘exit interview’ portion of student transfer that doesn’t exist, because our leadership teams have not truly come to grips with the type of student who is most likely to request transfer… I alluded to that in my set-up piece if you recall, when I noted the bleed we’ve experienced in my band program. The kids who come to me are from families who want “more” for their child.

We’ve got MORE already. We’ve always HAD more. For God’s sake, people, we flippin’ invented MORE…

We’ve got every variety of Varsity sport. We’ve got clubs and afterschool activities that would satisfy even the most discriminating interest. We’ve got co-curricular and extra-curricular hoo-ha: Drama, Band, Choirs, Dance Groups, Key Club, Foreign Language clubs, JROTC and so much MORE I’d need a fresh typewriter ribbon.

We’ve got EVERY learning need covered at EVERY educational level from Preschool to AP-level Math and Science. We’ve got Life Advancement, not just Educational Advancement, covered.

Yeah, we do that…

So, why in Hell aren’t we winning the VHS – Betamax War? Because we never joined the Market War…

We have no “Brand” identity. And until someone on County St. wakes up to THAT simple fact, we’re gonna keep losing $6,000,000 every year to a Level 3 school.

I’d love to sit in a meeting with those folk. I’ve even submitted a proposal to show how we could stem this loss, but, hey, I’m just a soldier. And it’s the Generals who decide which War to fight and which War to ignore. I don’t have PhD following my name. There’s no EdD there either, so obviously I’m talking out of the wrong orifice. Let’s face it, this is America, and if you want to make something well-branded, you’ve got to have letters following your name.

But then, I guess no one mentioned that to Ray Kroc and Steve Jobs…


Rick Wheaton said...

Speaking of turnover rate, let's drill down into the staff/faculty turnover rate of charter schools. As an adult, an important metric to notice when looking for a place to work is the retention rate - or resulting rate of attrition. If we let charter schools come to this town -- and specifically City on a Hill charter school -- we're subjecting our kids to an environment where they are likely to see new teachers and staff nearly every year. The rate of staff attrition is HORRIBLE for charter schools and City on a Hill in particular. Have them line up their senior staff (and we'll be generous: 4 years employment or longer) and it will be a very short line. Why?? The pay is reasonable, is only a bit lower than public schools. It is the management, people -- the school is setup wrong from the top down and our kids will be affected by that culture every single day. Do you think all of the staff keep leaving on their own? No, they are driven out by poor management. This doesn't happen in NBPS; just look at the retention rate and you'll see. Wouldn't it be nice to come back a year after your child starts and see some of the same faces at school?

SO, we have students and staff turning over and leaving at a very high rate. Does that sound like a productive model that is working well to you? And do you want to put your child in that environment?

I don't. I encourage you to make the same decision. I like the 3 day wait period in order for people to see some real facts and see through the facade. Get past the smiles of the boss and try to find someone who has worked there long enough to share an opinion....and good luck, that "long term" person will be hard to find outside of management. Teachers are leaving faster than the kids.

Anonymous said...

Bad news: as long as the standard times exists we'll be discredited as a school system.

Good news: robert unger is driving the s/t into the toilet so it shouldn't exist much longer.

Anonymous said...

The worst things to ever happen to New Bedford:

1. Bob Unger becomes editor of the
2. Unger makes Spillane a
3. Unger is named asst. publisher.
4. Unger makes Urbon a "columnist".