SAVING A SCHOOL FROM CLOSURE
May 29, 2012
Many school volunteers toil behind the scenes in relative obscurity...and prefer it that way. They have no desire to hold positions of power or lead the way, except maybe by example. Xraka White considered herself one of those people. When her son, Ethan, began attending Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Houston, she volunteered in his classroom. "I simply wanted to be visible to him and to help at the school," she says. When she was asked to be a room parent, she never considered anything other than just being nearby as the reason. White is far too modest. As her efforts during a recent school crisis attest, she has moxie and is more than willing to step outside her comfort zone when it really counts.
It was just before Thanksgiving in 2011 when Holy Trinity's board handed down some bleak news to families with children at the small private institution. Dire financial straits were going to force the beloved school to close at the end of December. Once the initial shock wore off, many parents realized they couldn't take this news lying down. White was one of them. She so loved the school and all it offered her son that she quickly became part of an attempt to save it. An enterprising group of parents soon raised $200,000 and worked out a plan to help increase enrollment and cut expenses. Stepping up their efforts, they effectively became the school's business managers, janitors, and groundskeepers. The role of marketing specialist fell to White, and despite no real experience in that area, she soon devised several winning strategies.
"The goal was to create an awareness in the community and also to energize other parents and volunteers," White says. She started by strengthening the school's Internet presence and launching a direct mail and newsletter campaign. She designed pro-Holy Trinity signs for incumbent parents to place on their lawns. She approached businesses to form partnerships with the school. Yet it was common sense that informed her most successful approach: "I really recognized that word of mouth is the best way to market the school."
To widen the circle beyond just family and friends, White and her committee began staging craft tables at local events such as a church festival, several Easter egg hunts, even a carnival held by a public elementary school. That led to face-to-face conversations with more than 700 fresh families, leading to increased school information inquiries, scheduled tours, and quite a few new enrollments.
White never dreamed in her day job as a consultant to an educational services company that she would one day be marketing a school. "You know, when you're passionate about something, it just kind of comes out," she says. "I really believe in the school and its programs. It's not about being over a committee. It's not about being a leader. I know leaders aren't always called. Leaders aren't always the ones who say, 'Hey, I want to lead.' Often it's the people who do the work...you know, who lead by example."
Holy Trinity Episcopal has been lucky to have such champions in its midst. White and other like-minded parents have managed to keep the school from closing and made it stronger. In retrospect, White thinks of the school's near closing as a blessing in disguise—a good problem. "It really opened a lot of people's eyes," she says. "It made people proactive and propelled them to think about how they could get involved."
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Alvin Gee