Business as usual: Independent schools continue to thrive

Fort Worth is booming, with considerable growth from 2000 to 2010 (including being acknowledged as the fastest growing city in America with a population over 500,000), and the latest forecasts project a 4.4 percent increase over the next five years.

As a result, there has been an increased demand for quality education customized to the Generation Z student. Given that these students are growing up with unlimited access to information, they are entrepreneurial, analytical and thoughtful. This has led to a demand for an educational model that develops dynamic and empathic leaders prepared for an ever-changing world. And Fort Worth is responding.

In my 15 years as an independent school admission and enrollment professional in several markets around the country, I’m programmed to track and analyze independent schools’ data. Since 2005, the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) member schools in the Southwest have outpaced national members 68 percent to 58 percent in enrollment growth. Though there are numerous factors influencing this disparity, I attribute much of the enrollment success of independent schools in our region to purposeful business development, quality of life enhancement, and a commitment to providing an educational experience that not only prepares students for the most selective colleges and universities in the country, but is committed to producing young men and women with a strong moral compass and who are committed to leaving the world a better place than they found it.

The landscape in Fort Worth is a prime example, with over 45,000 students enrolled in private and independent schools across Tarrant County. Still, there are challenges we must acknowledge and navigate in order to remain a viable option for families, specifically a continuing saturation of the educational marketplace.

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Simply put, families have options: home school, public and charter schools, private and independent schools. While charter schools only serve 4 percent of all public school students, they are an alternative to the traditional educational system. Statistically, charter schools reach a larger percentage of economically disadvantaged students, yet they still present challenges to independent schools by offering a more specialized approach to teaching and learning than their public school counterparts. However, because they receive government funding, they are also under government oversight.

The Fort Worth Independent School District, which serves over 84,000 students in 146 schools, has identified opportunities to evolve, as evidenced by the recent introduction of a full-day pre-kindergarten program and the implementation of its Program of Choice. These programs strive to meet the changing needs of families in Fort Worth while balancing the requirement of school districts to meet state and federal standards.

So, how has this affected independent schools? We are business as usual.

Independent schools have always enjoyed an inherent freedom and flexibility when it comes to mission and outcome statements, philosophical and programmatic elements and overall school operations. This freedom and flexibility allows us to adapt quickly to a changing marketplace, where the demands for our graduates continuously evolve. This freedom and flexibility allows us to develop programs that focus on design thinking, collaborative problem solving, cultural competency, creative confidence and empathic leadership, and on developing a growth mindset in each of our students. This freedom and flexibility allows us to focus on each child, truly knowing and caring for them, in an environment that is both safe and challenging and fosters a growth mindset in a nurturing way. Most important, this freedom and flexibility allows us to remain steadfast in our founding principles with a commitment to community, all while focusing on providing a robust academic experience that truly changes life trajectories.

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As the oldest independent school in Fort Worth (founded in 1951), All Saints’ Episcopal School has a core set of principles on which we have built our foundation, while still adapting to the needs of our students and families. From the reintroduction of our Early Childhood program, which has grown to 128 students in just 7 years, to the creation and implementation of the Tad Bird Honors College (a program for students who will be challenged by world-class experts to identify pressing problems and envision creative solutions) to an enhanced focus on STEM programs such as solar car and robotics, to the introduction of an international program designed to develop the cultural competencies required in a global marketplace, our educational experience is rooted in relationships and focused on outcomes.

The result of these programmatic and cultural enhancements has been enrollment growth mirroring that of Fort Worth. Since 2013, All Saints’ has grown to 1,050 students, an increase of over 21 percent. And, though we are mindful and aware of the challenges ahead, we are excited about what the future holds as we continue our work as a nationally recognized independent school. For us, it’s business as usual.

Craig Tredenick, director of enrollment management at All Saints’, has presented nationally on enrollment management at conferences including NAIS, ERB, AISAP, SSATB, TABS and SBSA.