St. Brendan’s School looking to focus image; UMass pitches in

Embracing the world of online marketing and promotion may seem like a daunting task for a nearly 60-year-old parochial school, but with the help of a group of marketing graduate students at UMass-Boston, St. Brendan’s Grammar School may be about to shake up its image for the twenty-first century and a more competitive education market.

As part of a final project for Professor Werner Kunz’s Integrated Marketing class, four UMass College of Management students, Yvonne Caulfield, Sardi Cela, A.J. Ferguson and Jennifer Skeffington, took on the task of evaluating St. Brendan’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential with a goal of crafting a plan to improve the school’s student retention and fundraising. They presented their findings to St. Brendan’s officials Tuesday evening at UMass.

“The reputation of St. Brendan’s speaks for itself,” said Caulfield. “Mature, good, Christian upbringing for [a student’s] life. ... It’s not just for the next academic achievement, but for life.”

St. Brendan is the last of the parish-operated primary schools in Dorchester. Like many parochial and private schools, the parish has been faced with the challenge of retaining students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, more of whom are gravitating toward new public charter schools.

The school dropped seventh and eighth grades this school year. Principal Ellen Leary said that so many of St. Brendan’s students were being admitted to Boston exam schools after sixth grade that it left too few students in the upper grades to justify the cost of educating them.

School administrators are now focusing on their pre-K through sixth grade programs while keeping a close eye on the budget. “We’re pretty stable right now, but money is always going to be a concern for any school,” Leary said.

A while ago, school board members reached out to UMass assistant vice chancellor for community relations Gail Hobin to try to fill the “gray area,” of marketing expertise the school was faced with. John Parsons said that getting in touch with Hobin, who in turn made arrangements with Kunz, was the first step before the project took off.

The team’s marketing proposal recommends a combination of online and traditional outreach to focus the school’s brand. Caulfield, a Dorchester resident, pointed out the advantages a Catholic school has over a charter school, saying that the ability to teach right from wrong and the inclusion of a religious element to education can still be very attractive to parents looking to set their children on a good path.

“What we thought was, there’s humble ways, it’s a little church school... and when you have humble ways you don’t always think of yourself in terms of a brand or marketing that brand, and we thought that’s something important to bring to light,” Ferguson said during the presentation.

Three representatives from St. Brendan, Leary, Parsons and teacher Pat Murphy attended the presentation. “I wasn’t sure exactly what we were going to hear, but I feel as though they have taken ideas that many of us have had and brought them into much clearer focus,” Leary said after hearing the students’ plans. “I think they’ve given us some very distinct ways to go and some very focused points to work on.”

This isn’t the first time Prof. Kunz’s students have worked to sharpen the images of businesses in Dorchester. A previous class worked with Euromart to upgrade the Polish delicatessen’s website, logo, and outreach operation. According to a UMass Boston press release, Euromart’s online sales increased 800 percent in just three weeks after implementing the student’s marketing plan.