Effective Practices : Enrollment
Retention and Exit Interviews
Enrollment Section 7
1. Is there a person or group in your school formally charged with student retention? Give the title of the person or group, and describe briefly the responsibilities assigned.
2. Describe the key elements of your retention program.
3. How are the retention related areas needing change or attention identified, and what is the process for ensuring that needed changes are implemented?
4. What types of statistical or historical tracking does your school do in relation to retention? Attach sample reports or analyses if available.
5. Some Waldorf schools feel a retention challenge in third grade and then again in the middle school years. Does your school have particular programs or practices that address these concerns? Describe them briefly.
6. Does your school conduct exit interviews? If so, describe how the interviews are conducted and by whom. Attach samples of survey letters or standardized interview questions if available.
7. Describe the key elements of the philosophy that informs your policies, practices and procedures in the area of retention and exit interviews.
8. What is particularly effective in your work with retention and exit interviews?
9. If you could change some aspect of your work in the area of student retention and exit interviews, what would you change and why?
Is there a person or group in your school formally charged with student retention? Give the title of the person or group, and describe briefly the responsibilities assigned.
The subject of retention and exit interviews is a sensitive one in the Waldorf schools surveyed. Only one school could identify a person or group responsible for student retention. And in this case it was the Enrollment Director who held consciousness for this area by tracking retention related data, spotting trends, and then making sure that the school as a whole was aware of any issues that were affecting the school’s retention performance. The Enrollment Director did not have any authority to make any change needed; his role was limited to an advisory one to the College and Board.
Describe the key elements of your retention program.
Not one school surveyed had a formal retention program. However, schools described several approaches that they were using to enhance retention. These include:
Exit Interviews and Surveys-When a family leaves the school a survey is sent to find out the reasons for the departure. The survey letter also offers an opportunity for the family to meet in person if they would like to share more personal perspectives on their experience in the Waldorf school. In cases where people do not respond to the survey an attempt is made to document the known reasons for leaving, often times by speaking with the class teacher or subject teachers to gather needed information.
The enrollment director compiles the information generated from these sources, and creates statistical analyses that help to clarify the picture around reasons for families’ departures. It is important to break down departures into voluntary (the family chose to leave the school) and involuntary (the family was relocated due to work or the school asked the student to leave). This distinction is important as the school operates in a highly mobile environment in which families are relocated on a quite frequent basis.
Parent Education-Targeted parent information evenings such as the move into middle school or entry into first grade are very helpful in supporting retention. It is also important to track class meetings to ensure that enough are being held in every grade to support parents in their desire to be active participants in their child’s education.
Grievance Processes-It is vitally important to have a clear process for families with issues or grievances. Parents need to feel heard and truly want their concerns to be settled. If clear processes for communication are not outlined and reiterated frequently then the conversation will move to the parking lot and become far more difficult to address in a healthy way.
Parent Council-An active, dynamic parent association helps parents to get involved with their child’s school in healthy, helpful ways. The Parent Association can also be a helpful listening ear for parents with concerns, providing peer to peer advice and directing new parents in the proper way to manage difficulties with the school.
Community Meetings-Open Board meetings, annual meetings, state of the school meetings, and other similar events help parents to see the school in the broadest context. These meetings allow issues of wider concern to be broached in a healthy proactive manner, and help to put a human face on those often impersonal sounding bodies the College of Teachers and the Board of Trustees.
Community Development Office-All successful school fundraising is dependent on a strong, committed and cohesive parent body. The school development office must begin its work by ensuring that the school has a healthy platform on which to build its larger outreach program, and for this reason the development officer is particularly sensitive to issues which may threaten the stability of the school community. A good development office is one that is well connected within the parent community and that can help issues get directed to the body of the school with authority to assess and act as may be appropriate.
Accreditation-The systematic review required by the accreditation process can be very helpful in identifying issues that are affecting retention. Once identified the accreditation response team can spearhead efforts to make the changes identified through the accreditation process.
How are the retention related areas needing change or attention identified, and what is the process for ensuring that needed changes are implemented?
Most schools conduct exit interviews or send surveys to families that leave the school as a systematic means of identifying possible causes of enrollment churn. The College of Teachers is the body that addresses most issues raised in the exit interviews, although at times issues such as tuition assistance and other non-teaching matters might be referred to the administrative committee or the Board of Trustees.
What types of statistical or historical tracking does your school do in relation to retention? Attach sample reports or analyses if available.
Typically the Enrollment Director tracks by grade the number of students that leave during the school year and the number of students that do not return in September. Building a historical data base of this sort makes it possible to answer a variety of questions such as:
- Is the retention rate in the middle school lower than it is in other grades?
- Has the retention rate in Mrs. Jones’ class been lower than the school norm in the last two years?
- What percentage of our students transition from the 8th grade into our own high school?
This data can be helpful when a school is trying to answer questions such as “Is an investment in additional middle school teachers warranted,” or “Has a particular class had unusually high attrition rates for the last few years?”
The enrollment reports also contain a brief explanation as to why a student left the school. These explanations are tallied each month and at year end, and can provide insights into other types of school wide issues such as tuition levels and tuition assistance, campus safety, and the lack of facilities such as a gym or computer lab.
Some Waldorf schools feel a retention challenge in third grade and then again in the middle school years. Does your school have particular programs or practices that address these concerns? Describe them briefly.
An evening program has been designed by one school for parents in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. The program outlines how these grades are the foundation for the 12 years of Waldorf education. Parents are given typical progress benchmarks and informed about the way in which remedial needs are identified and addressed.
One school noted a weakness in its middle school math program that affected its ability to retain students into the Waldorf high school. The school already has a special teacher for middle school English, and is now considering adding tracks in math and having a subject teacher for science.
In another school the parent education committee aims to bring in a variety of speakers to address the particular concerns of parents of middle school children. There are also joint 6th and 7th grade parent meetings to address issues of adolescence, academic concerns, and transitions to the high school. It is also helpful to have high school teachers attend these middle school class meetings so that various developmental and social issues can be addressed.
One very important aspect of the middle school retention program for a school with a high school is to have high school teachers serve as subject teachers in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes. In schools without a high school it is becoming a more common practice to have math resource teachers and language arts specialists to teach in the 7th and 8th grades. Another school noted that they have a fourth main lesson teacher available in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. This fourth teacher teaches rotating main lessons in each grade, bringing richness to the program. By this age it is more the student that must be satisfied with the educational experience rather than just the parents, and the school has strengthened its program to meet the students’ interests and desires.
A strong middle school sports program is another key in retaining students for the high school. The 7th and 8th grade students are also included with the high school for some assemblies, and the 8th graders are allowed to observe the activities of High School Spirit Week.
Another school reported that its middle school class teachers meet regularly as a group, creating a forum for discussion on issues of general concern in these years.
Does your school conduct exit interviews? If so, describe how the interviews are conducted and by whom. Attach samples of survey letters or standardized interview questions if available?
In one school the Enrollment Director sends a letter to all departing families inviting them to set up an exit interview and to speak with her. (See: Exit Interview Cover Letter) She allows people to come to the school or to speak on the phone. She has even visited people’s homes and met them at coffee shops when this was most convenient for the parents. The enrollment director completes an exit response summary (See: Exit Interview Summary) which is forwarded to the teacher, the College chair, and placed into the student file. The Enrollment director has a contact person on the College of Teachers, and any sensitive issues that arise can be discussed in more detail through this contact.
In other schools exit interviews are only done when requested by a family. These schools send a written questionnaire to each family. (See: Exit Survey) The cover letter encourages families to schedule an interview if desired. There is an emphasis on the school’s interest in learning from the family’s experiences and a genuine request for their feedback either through the survey or an interview.
Another school reported that it has Board members place a call to the families of all graduating students, soliciting their feedback and thanking them for their years of service.
Describe the key elements of the philosophy that informs your policies, practices and procedures in the area of retention and exit interviews.
It is great to be able to spot problems early on rather than let them brew. Having a really clear and frequently published process for letting problems be brought through the right channel and getting the attention of the right body is critical.
The tone of the exit interviews must be that we are trying to learn from parents’ experiences and that we are genuinely interested in their perspectives, whether positive or negative.
Each exit interview is structured in a way that meets the needs of the individual parents. The intent is to create a forum where parents can speak of their concerns directly to the school, rather than feeling the need to take unresolved issues into a public forum.
We often tell the parents that we want to learn from their experience. This helps parents form their responses in a way that can actually be helpful to the school.
The school’s festivals and events can help support retention. Parents don’t really know what’s going on in the classroom, so they often judge the quality of teaching in the classroom by their experience of the festivals and the parent information evenings.
An effective retention program requires that a school keep its finger on the pulse of the school community. This must be coupled with good historical data so that when concerns surface it is possible to put them in perspective.
Every member of the school staff, faculty and Board plays an important part in retention.
What is particularly effective in your work with retention and exit interviews?
The school has a strong emphasis on re-enrolling students by the end of January. In that way any significant problems that are emerging can be addressed long before the school year ends and important inroads made in the areas of retention.
Parent events and community meetings are effective at building retention and community.
The school administrator has an open door policy and is very available to parents. This helps problems to be heard early on, so that solutions can be found before something mushrooms into a larger issue.
The tracking of data is good, allowing the school to identify what the areas of weakness are.
If you could change some aspect of your work in the area of student retention and exit interviews, what would you change and why?
The school needs to develop a formal, ongoing retention program, conduct regular exit interviews, and clarify its policies and practices in the area of standards for achievement and student behavior.
A check off letter is going to be used as a follow up to non-responders to the first request for an exit interview. This will allow families who are not wiling or able to be interviewed to provide some feedback to the school.
It is sometimes difficult to know how to appropriately report sensitive information so that the crux of the issue is clearly understood and can be looked at without dong a verbatim transcript of the exit interview.
The school is just beginning to create a data base of historical statistics. The enrollment coordinator collects a good deal of information, but this information is of little value if it isn’t used. At times it feels that there is inadequate will force among the College and Board members to proactively deal with the issues surfaced by the data.
At times tough financial decisions must be made that affect a large number of people such as raising tuition or reducing financial aid levels. While these decisions must be made, it is important to create a proactive plan to reach out to families, sharing the larger picture of the need for these changes and working to help families feel their situations are recognized in a caring, constructive way.
It would be great to do a survey of our current families to find out what concerns are living in the community, and be able to address those needs before someone decides to leave.