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How Market Research can help Charter Schools and Educational Leadership Teams make Vital Decisions


Sharon: Hello, this is Sharon Heller with Network in Action, and I'm here today with Lara Fordis, from Fordis Consulting. Good morning, Lara.


Lara: Morning, Sharon.


Sharon: Great to be with you today. And let's start with you talking a little bit about market research and just to give the listener a little preview of who you are and the kind of work you do.


Lara: Sure. So I've been doing market research for over 20 years. And what market research is people think of it as surveys and focus groups. But there are other methodologies that get at answering questions that business owners have and nonprofits and schools about their target audience and what messages resonate with them so they can make informed decisions about product or service offerings or where to locate anything from a restaurant or a private school so that they have peace of mind, that they're not relying on gut feelings and hunches, but rather on data to drive their decision making.


Sharon: Super important. And one of the things I just discovered recently in talking to you is not only do you work with startups and Fortune 500 companies and all different sizes of businesses, you also do some work within the school system. So can you talk about that a little bit?


Lara: Sure! I've been working with charter schools actually for over 10 years now, and it started helping out a friend of mine whose school wanted to become a charter school. And we needed data to present to the authorizers in the case of charter schools to make a case for why this should become a charter school. And I'm thrilled to say that we did the report and they got their charter school, that they got to become a charter school and then charter schools have to go up for recertification every once in a while. And especially if you're in a in a low performing charter school by low performing, not by virtue of the fact that the school isn't adequate. But if you've got a high homeless child population, you've got, you know, a high immigrant population, high poverty population, which the school did, they have to come up for...They have to explain themselves a lot more often. And so I would do that. I would do market research to give context, to offer a case for why the school is actually performing and serving the community better than the pure indications of test scores and grades because they were up against a lot of challenges. And out of that my my work was shown to the California Charter School Association, and I got to see some of the other reports that charter schools put out, survey monkey, so forth.


Lara: And I can see why they really liked mine, because I take my fortune 500 background and super-impose it on how I look at charter schools or anything else for that matter. And so out of that, I've gone to national charter school conferences. A lot of California charter school conferences work for charter school management organizations. And what a lot of what I specialize in now for charter schools is when they're looking to expand, I do location based surveys. So let's say you've got a great concept, your charter school's about arts and growth mindset and entrepreneurship. You know, sort of very interesting thematic values I go into where charter schools thinking of expanding. So let's say they're looking at three different locations and I'll do zip code based surveys with those prospective parents to understand which of those offerings is going to resonate most with that. Because just like with startups, a lot of times charter schools have the best of intentions and they see, oh, this is this is an underserved community and they need a charter school. And we're going to go in and we're going to change the world, which is great, very idealistic. I'm idealistic, too, but I'm also pragmatic.


Lara: And sometimes where you're putting your charter school, just because there isn't one there doesn't mean that the parents are going to want their kids to go there. So especially in some communities that have high poverty, high immigrant population growth mindset is wonderful, but a lot of times they prefer a more academic college prep, uniforms, discipline that might be incongruous with what you have to offer as a charter school. So I help charter schools match their values and offerings with the right neighborhoods so that they don't invest millions to go into someplace, only to discover that the parents aren't going to want to enroll there because it's not consistent with what they want or their value system. And conversely, there are college prep schools that don't have significant differentiators, and they may go into some place and it may not be a good fit for them, so it may be, you know, an investment of thirty five hundred dollars, five thousand dollars, not a lot of money, but it could save several hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of stress for going in some place and they're not getting authorized or worse yet, going in some place and not getting the parent enrollment to sustain the school. And I've seen that happen several times and it's really painful.


Sharon: Yeah, we know how essential that is to a charter school success.


Lara: So, yeah, I understand what's going to make parents want to enroll their kids and find a good fit for them, because just like you're selling a product or service, education and alternatives to education like charter schools is essentially that as well. So understanding what what's going to motivate them to want to give up the status quo and put their kid in an unknown like a new charter school or an existing charter school requires a lot of insights.


Sharon: I'm so glad that I discovered that you work in this niche as well, Laura. And I hope some educators, leadership educators out there get to watch this video and maybe it sparks something for them. So if they want to reach out to you, what's the best way for them to do that?


Lara: Well, they can find me on LinkedIn. I'm Lara Fordis on LinkedIn. I'm the only one there. Or they can email me at lara@fordisconsulting.com. Always happy to talk to them and figure out what it is, what's their end goal, and work backwards to figure out what's it going to take to get to that end goal in the most cost effective and expeditious fashion. Always happy to talk to people.


Sharon: Great. Thank you. Thank you for your time. Take care. We'll talk soon. Bye bye.


Lara: Bye.



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