Ann Marie Simonetti, pictured below with her children, wears several hats at The New Century School, actually.
Her full title is Director of Admissions and Marketing and Montessori Programming Advisor.
Let’s see what she’s been up to so far this year. We’ll start with admissions and then delve into the other fun things she has on the horizon.
TNCS Open House
Saturday, October 21st will be Ms. Simonetti’s third TNCS Open House (register here!). She is spreading the word in multiple ways. She has a Facebook event that she is also asking the TNCS community to share. “Our wonderful executive assistant Jade Wells-White has been helping post to some of our local neighborhood sites, like the Canton Community Association and Fells Point Residential and some of the activities for kids websites that allow you to share your postings,” she said.
“Most of our referrals come from word of mouth anyway,” she added, “which is of course the most authentic seal of approval you can get. So, through the preschool newsletter and the Head of School newsletter, we have asked the TNCS community to share out with their families, friends, and colleagues. Some of our prospective families who are planning to attend asked me if they could invite friends with similar-aged children, which we of course encourage. We’re hoping for a big crowd. We have a good mix of prospective preschool friends and families as well as some K through 8s.”
During Ms. Simonetti’s first Open House in 2021, COVID-related concerns made having a synchronous component challenging. This year, everything returns to in person on campus. Mr. Warren has coordinated two student musical performances; those student ambassadors will also introduce themselves and speak briefly about what they like about TNCS and to showcase the Fine Arts. Although the format of the Open House will resemble prior TNCS Open Houses, one difference this year that has Ms. Simonetti particularly excited is showing off the newly refurbished primary environments. “Having everyone experience all of the wonderful work Ms. Lane has been putting in real life will be wonderful. I have been doing some virtual tours as kind of a first step for those prospective families who are sometimes more available to meet virtually, so they’re able to see the classrooms that way, but it’s not quite the same as when they can experience it in real life.”
In general at TNCS, the school year has gotten off to a very good start, which many attribute to the returning leadership team, and it looks promising from an admissions perspective as well. “The admissions cycle for preschool tends to happen on a rolling basis throughout the year as the children turn age 2,” explained Ms. Simontte. “COVID admissions data are outliers, because they were unreliable. We’re seeing a return to the times when our enrollment numbers are actually higher in the last day of school than on the first day of school. The projection for that rolling cycle is very similar and so very encouraging. Also, overall having the TNCS leadership team back this year is so helpful—together having been through this once, we’re able to reflect and move forward with purpose.”
Discover TNCS and Other Ways to Get to Know TNCS
TNCS has a host of exciting events coming up, aimed at familiarizing both prospective and current families with the unique offerings of the school.
Born out of the adaptations of 2020, these events have proven their value in terms of accessibility. They provide families with an insight into TNCS, minus the sometimes motion-sickness-inducing virtual tours. Instead, it’s a prerecorded slideshow that dives into the intricacies of what makes TNCS stand out. While the website does its part, these slides, supplemented with audio descriptions, offer a more tangible feel of the school environment. There’s an emphasis on TNCS’s extensive outdoor spaces and gardens, illustrating the school’s dedication to holistic learning.
Leadership from TNCS usually makes an appearance, offering their thoughts and insights. In some instances, current families, alumni, and even students share their experiences, providing a rounded perspective to prospective parents. A Q&A session allows attendees to get their specific queries addressed, and following the event, there’s an opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with the school representative. These sessions are thoughtfully capped at 45 minutes to an hour, considering attendees’ daily commitments.
In essence, Discover TNCS is more than just an event; it’s an experience, ensuring that families are well-informed and connected every step of the way.
Preschool Family Workshops and Observation Weeks
Current families get a firsthand experience of the Montessori and multilingual preschool programs at TNCS through these events. It’s a chance for parents to witness the practical implementation of the pedagogies they’ve heard about.
Tailored for current families with children turning 5 by September 1st of the next year, these previews are around the corner on the admissions calendar. They offer insights into the transition from preschool to kindergarten.
TNCS understands that families might have specific concerns and questions about preschool, extended care, or other offerings. The school ensures that they have the right resources, be it meeting with a representative or coordinating with specific staff members, to address these tailored inquiries.
Adapting to Modern Admission Trends with a Montessori Perspective
TNCS has integrated Blackbaud as their mainstay communication and student management software, streamlining processes from admissions inquiries right through to report cards. While the software shares features with other platforms like Blackboard and Canvas, TNCS harnesses Blackbaud for its expansive capacities.
An upcoming Blackbaud Conference, set to take place in Denver, presents a golden opportunity for Ms. Simonetti. Earlier in the summer, she received an invitation to co-present after Blackbaud expressed interest in some of the proposals she was involved with. Blackbaud has combined its K-12 conference with other divisions, resulting in a grand global meet-up, both virtually and in-person.
Ms. Simonetti’s focus for the presentation is on the innovative methods TNCS has employed to elevate user experience for prospective families. The traditional admissions funnel has evolved; no longer a linear process, prospective parents often bypass preliminary stages, moving directly to applications or on-site tours. Recognizing this trend, TNCS has revamped its approach.
One significant change introduced was the self-scheduling system. Prospective parents can now schedule, modify, and manage their campus visits at their convenience. Automated yet personalized reminders ensure a smooth experience for both the school and the visitors. Such steps are pivotal in making the admission journey customer-centric.
By tapping into her previous experience and understanding of customer service, Ms. Simonetti has created a seamless and user-friendly admission process. The traditional notion of an “admissions funnel” suggests a linear path that prospective families must follow. However, as Ms. Simonetti reflected, this linear model doesn’t seem to resonate as much in today’s dynamic world, especially given the uncertainties posed by the pandemic. Instead, her Montessori-informed perspective evokes the image of a Nautilus or spiral, where families can enter, exit, and re-enter the admissions process at different stages as per their unique circumstances and preferences.
This cyclical approach mirrors the unpredictability and frequent changes families have faced, particularly during COVID. The spiral also aligns with the Montessori principle of accommodating individual needs, highlighting the adaptive and flexible nature of TNCS’s admissions process.
Regarding the upcoming presentation at the Blackbaud Conference, some content will be made available on demand. Stay tuned for a blog post in which Ms. Simonetti shares her experiences, offering a more in-depth insight into TNCS’s innovative admission strategies. This way, the larger community can benefit from the school’s pioneering approach and the ideas exchanged at the conference.
Regarding Ms. Simonetti’s other main role at TNCS as Montessori programming advisor (from her infant and toddler Montessori background), she has been instrumental in helping Ms. Lane (primary Montessori credentials) acclimate to TNCS. “We love her; she’s awesome! Being able to share some level of institutional knowledge is helpful. We’ve spent lots of time brainstorming and having great dialogue about which materials are most appropriate to introduce not only to students but for staff to avoid too steep of a learning curve,” she said.
And here’s a little teaser about a future blog post: Ms. Lane recently orchestrated an overnight professional development trip for preschool staff to a Montessori school in Virginia.
We had a wonderful cabin; it was rustic but beautiful, with details like a claw foot tub. It was a great experience for preschool teachers to see a different Montessori school and all the things that we’ve been introducing to them and showing them. Even though we have training and observation videos to see what’s possible, seeing it in practice are two different things. It really helps bridge the gap. And, again being able to connect with Ms. Lane and share our complementary knowledge and make plans for, for example, when a preprimary student might be ready to move up to primary. What are the skill sets? What are the different developmental elements that may indicate that readiness?
TNCS Brand Awareness
Ms. Simonetti does not limit her reach to what her title describes. She helps TNCS achieve its objectives in many ways. Her background is extensive, and she weaves together its many threads to great effect. Did you know she even taught dance for 11 years? Her dance buddies and she created their own Zumba-inspired dance, and she stays in touch with those friends. But it’s her marketing experience that we’ll delve into next.
Brand awareness is crucial for any institution, and for TNCS, Ms. Simonetti is at the helm of this endeavor. When asked about her marketing expertise, she chuckled, “Maybe a bit comes naturally, but my background in hospitality, particularly sales and marketing, has certainly shaped my approach.”
Ms. Simonetti’s experience in event and wedding planning, industries renowned for their customer service-centric models, has been invaluable. “It’s all about the user experience, ensuring it’s positive,” she shared. Transitioning from a customer-oriented domain to a school setting presented its challenges, especially when operating without a full-fledged communications team or significant marketing budget.
However, her tenure in advancement roles within nonprofits honed her skills further. “I’ve taken courses and received training in digital marketing,” Ms. Simonetti explained. She emphasized the importance of leveraging available tools effectively, particularly those that don’t necessarily come with extra costs. “Staying updated is vital, as the landscape keeps changing,” she concluded, underscoring her commitment to providing TNCS with the best in brand awareness strategies.
High School Preparation
How is high school prep related to marketing? Well, when it comes to preparing high school–bound students, TNCS goes above and beyond. While Ms. Johnson hosts her annual seminar for 8th-graders, Ms. Simonetti’s main focus has been assisting students in their transitions. “It’s not so much about admissions for us at that point, but about ensuring these students are equipped with everything they need to move on,” Ms. Simonetti explained.
The school’s unique approach involves creating a comprehensive student portfolio instead of sending individual referrals and transcripts. “We work on building transcripts that are aesthetically pleasing. Instead of sending separate math teacher referrals, ELA teacher referrals, and transcripts, we compile everything into a student portfolio (abridged sample here). It provides a complete picture of the student,” Ms. Simonetti remarked.
Commenting on the difference between public and independent school processes, Ms. Simonetti observed, “You don’t get such a detailed portfolio at a public school. The portfolios we receive from public schools are not as comprehensive, and our method also aids in brand awareness.”
This unique approach not only makes TNCS students stand out but also embodies the school’s commitment to ensuring every student’s success beyond their campus.
It’s clear: Ms. Simonetti is integral to making TNCS the magical place it is, both present and future.