The 2014 spring semester was a tumultuous one for the Campus School of Boston College.
After facing a seven-consecutive-year decline in enrollment and operating within facilities comparatively smaller than nearby Kennedy Day School (KDS)—a Brighton-based school for special needs students between ages 3 and 21 located within the Franciscan Hospital for Children—the Campus School was under extensive consideration by the University for relocation. Parents of Campus School students, however, were unenthused about the possibility.
The relocation would have not only involved the transferring of students to a separate, non-BC owned medical facility, but also the merging of two programs—KDS and Campus School—within one building. Although the Campion Hall space for the Campus School was less technologically equipped than KDS, many parents of Campus School children advocated against the program merger, largely on the premise that substituting a special collegial learning environment for a more hospital-oriented one would detract from both student and volunteer experiences.
The controversy surrounding the evaluation reached a zenith during the late winter months of last semester, when the students and families of BC’s Campus School held a prayer service in St. Ignatius Chapel for the continued stay of Campus School students on BC grounds. Attendees for the ceremony—including siblings of students, volunteers, and faculty members, numbered in the hundreds—all gathered to listen to volunteers’ stories and parental testimonies on the importance of having their children overseen within a University context.
Nearly three weeks after the prayer service, following months of shared examination, the University announced that the Campus School would stay in Campion Hall, ending its consideration of a merger with KDS and thus a restructuring of the Campus School program.
“The Campus School parents asked for an opportunity to keep the campus school at BC, increase enrollment, and balance the school’s budget, and we have agreed to give them this opportunity,” said then-Interim Provost Joseph Quinn in a statement to the Office of News and Public Affairs this past February. “We are all committed to making this plan work.”
The administrative decision to continue the Campus School’s presence on BC property was made in light of a proposal submitted by Campus School parents, who joined to pitch a sustainability plan to the University. Through monthly planning meetings, parents collaborated with volunteers, administrators, and Campus School staff members to offer a strategic plan for the school’s future development, namely by way of enlarging its enrollment and increasing its budget.
“While this is a very sensitive issue and stirs lots of emotions we also know there is a business model behind all successful institutions,” said Kristen Morin, co-president of the Campus School Parent Advisory Committee and BC ’86, in an email this February. “We did not want to make our case on emotion alone as that would prove to be a short-term solution. Rather our committee developed the outline of a new direction based on facts and potential outcomes to create a sustainable program.”
Now, midway through the first semester following the merger consideration, the Campus School has begun taking steps to implement its strategic plan, which was developed toward the end of the spring semester and approved by a team of parents and University administrators over the summer.
“[The University] worked with us to identify what was it that made this so important that we stay on campus … to keep the Campus School of Boston College, not the Campus School of Brighton or anywhere else,” Morin said.
Upon the agreement first being reached in February, Quinn and then-Vice President of Human Resources Leo Sullivan led most of the administrative coordination between the Campus School and the University. Over the next several months, though, the executive support team of University administrators grew to include Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley; Dean of the Lynch School of Education Maureen Kenney; Associate Vice President of Advancement Operations and Planning Brenda Ricard; Director of the Budget Office Brian Smith; and graduate lecturer in the Carroll School of Management Scott McDermott, among others.
“So, once it was decided that we would stay, the idea was, ‘how do we go from surviving to thriving?’” Morin said.
The strategic plan centers on two main themes under which nearly all initiatives will fall: marketing and fundraising.
Prior to a refocusing on its marketing capabilities, Morin noted that the Campus School had relied heavily on years of aggregated prestige and word-of-mouth reputation, which enabled an average enrollment of just over 40 students over the last seven years, but also one that had seen a drop-off from 49 students in 2007 to just 38 in 2014.
Over the course of their monthly meetings, the planning team worked to develop a re-branding strategy that would effectively generate a rebounded enrollment in future years and maintain the financial stability to do so. Through a series of internal restructurings and a revised emphasis on marketing tools such as promotional materials, an increased social media presence, and a working relationship with BC’s Office of News and Public Affairs, Morin noted that the Campus School is taking on a new, much-need marketing role.
Internal restructuring is slated to include more general marketing responsibilities across most staff positions; the creation of a new board of advisors, composed not only of BC-affiliated members, but also third-party special needs education professionals; and the addition of student interns to help develop methods of image enhancement and publicizing the quality of services offered by the Campus School.
McDermott, who directs BC’s MBA Consulting Service, has arranged for three to four CSOM student interns to fulfill a variety of marketing roles for the Campus School in January, according to Morin, who has been a driving force behind the Parental Advisory Committee.
As part of the marketing expansion, the planning team also collaborates with Inspire, a national non-profit consulting firm comprised of volunteers seeded from industry-leading consulting firms such as Deloitte and L.E.K. Once Inspire had assisted the planning team with methods of improved marketing and balancing the budget, Morin said that the second phase of the Campus School’s relationship with the volunteer consulting group will focus on implementation.
“We were fortunate to be able to work with a group that could help us with the development of that strategic plan,” said Campus School Director Don Ricciato, who for years has overseen the leadership of the Campus School.
“We’re trying to establish a number of students in the program that do allow the [Campus School] to thrive and so that we’ll be able to continue to offer the services that we have, he said.
Along with new marketing measures that also include a promotional video produced by the Office of News and Public Affairs for the school, the team evaluated new ways of sourcing funds for the school by working with Ricard and Vice President of University Advancement Jim Husson.
“Our relationship with [University] Advancement over the years had been weak in the sense that we were relying too heavily just on volunteer money that was raised through the Campus School Volunteers through their events,” Morin said.
For its renewed fundraising efforts, the Campus School has recently worked with Ricard to conduct a formal financial appeal for donations from its far-reaching listservs of students, families, and BC alumni starting this November—a initiative never before undertaken by the school.
The Campus School website has also undergone a redesign for donation accessibility, making the online section for donating a more noticeable feature of the site.
With the bulk of its fundraising significantly derived from annual events such as the annual Campus School marathon, the absence of that marathon in 2014 resulting from a Boston Athletic Association ban on “bandit” runners prompted parents and staff to look for alternative funding beyond annual donation drives, Ricciato noted.
“We have done some fundraising, but not to the extent that we would like,” he said. “This is not just a Campus School problem—I mean, certainly any non-profit organization but particularly private and publicly funded special education schools are always looking at outside sources of income beyond the state-approved tuition rate.”
The majority of Campus School financing is allocated toward staff wages, with 78 percent of the school’s annual operating budget covering salaries. Ricciato said he hopes the upcoming appeal in November will help supplement that financing.
“This is all being done with the support and the systems of the University’s advancements office, which is huge,” he said.
For Morin, this year’s expansion of marketing and financing goals marks the beginning of a new, more aware identity of the Campus School, and one that, in partnership with the University, intends to keep students at BC.
“We’re actually trying away from that feeling of the past,” she said. “It’s changed so much. It’s all forward now.”
Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Senior Staff