Athletic director Matt Vargo speaks to parents at the new families dinner on Aug. 22. Sixty-five families entered this school year. (Photo by Elise Sommerhaug)

Country Day opening enrollment surpasses 500 students for the first time in 11 years

Sixty-five new families entered Country Day this year, making the total number of students 507 — the first opening day enrollment over 500 since 2008.

There are 237 students in lower school, 134 in middle school and 136 in high school.

Director of admissions Hadley Keefe said Country Day was prepared for the growth and teachers were comfortable with the bigger classes. Keefe said the school is already staffed for a capacity of 544 students – 250 in lower school, 150 in middle school (50 per grade) and 144 in high school (36 per grade). 

According to head of school Lee Thomsen, the growth strategy was to focus on entry points (common grades to enroll at Country Day): pre-K, kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade. 

Thomsen said the school’s capacity is capped at 544 students by an agreement with the City of Sacramento. If more students apply, a waiting list will be created. 

The school currently has waiting lists for pre-K and fourth grade. The amount of staff limits the pre-K class to 24 students and the fourth grade class to 44. If a spot opens, a student from the waiting pool will come to Country Day. 

According to head of lower school Christy Vail, the most growth has occurred in the lower school because it is the main entry point into the school and has the most grade levels. 

“For the last two years, all of the pre-K seats have been filled,” Vail said.  Keefe added that most of those students have enrolled in kindergarten.

Head of high school Brooke Wells said the school’s growth is based on the number of available seats in certain grades. 

“Our main goal is for more people to engage and inquire with us so the total amount of seats are filled,” Wells said. 

Thomsen attributed the enrollment increase to changes by the admissions office, improved marketing and a better economy. 

Head of middle school Rommel Loria said changes in admissions events brought more attention to the school. 

“We moved the Open House to a Saturday, which got a lot of attendance from prospective families,” Loria said. 

Thomsen said the popularity of the pre-K class came from Toddler Story Hours, which the admissions office started last year. Prospective pre-K students and their families can come to Country Day and listen to stories on some Fridays in the fall and spring. 

Director of marketing and communications Emily Allshouse agreed with Thomsen that better marketing contributed to the increase. 

“We publish ads in Inside Publications, Sactown Magazine and Sacramento Magazine,” Allshouse said. “However, print publications are more old-school. Most people get their information online now, so we expanded our social media presence.”

Two years ago, Country Day was not active on social media, but currently, the school has Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. 

In comparison to the 2017-18 school year, information about school events is now shown in ads on Facebook and Instagram, attracting more followers.

Before 2018-19, Country Day’s Instagram account had fewer than 40 followers, Allshouse said. Now, it has more than 600. 

This year, Allshouse said she hopes to increase her focus on student experiences to personalize the account. She said she thinks the click-through rates (how often someone clicks on an ad) will exceed those of last year. 

The Facebook ads are targeted toward specific demographics. Some ads are directed at Bay Area families because recently, many students have come from there due to the high cost of living, according to Allshouse. 

Allshouse also introduced KCRA to the school’s Garage Band and “Good Morning Sacramento” to the garden, which brought more attention to Country Day. 

Thomsen said his biggest concern is a possible recession. 

“After our peak 10 years ago, the economy went down, which decreased the number of students because paying for education was not at the top of parents’ priorities,” Thomsen said.

By Sanjana Anand

Originally published in the Sept. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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