Downtown Tampa business leaders wooing a corporate headquarters to town could benefit from a chat with Joe Seivold. The headmaster at one of Florida’s most prestigious private schools, Berkeley Preparatory in Tampa, Seivold leads a closely connected mission: to transform Berkeley, with a pre-K-12th grade, Episcopal-affiliated curriculum, into a nationally known name in prep schools.
He aims for a program so strong that the next time a corporate chieftain decides between, say, Dallas and Tampa, Berkeley helps tip the scale.
“We want Berkeley to become a destination institution,” says Seivold, a former University of North Carolina college lacrosse star named headmaster at Berkeley in 2011. “Every city needs a great urban institution. We want to be that school for Tampa Bay.”
The way there, for Seivold, is to run the school, with 1,300 students and 250 teachers and support staff, like a scrappy underdog. “We don’t get a dime from the government,” says Seivold. “We have to earn everything we make.”
Applications are up 31% over the last four years, one of several on-the-rise metrics at the school. Part of that growth stems from one of Seivold’s first moves after he was hired, to prioritize and execute a campus renovation and expansion.
There was overcrowding in some areas, and other buildings at the school, founded in 1960, hadn’t been updated in years. That’s not only bad for students, says Seivold, but it’s a big hit on employee morale and retention. “As a business, I thought we could do better,” Seivold says. “Our middle division wasn’t up to par.”
The overhaul of the campus in the last five years includes 140,000 square feet of new space — at least $22 million in construction projects. New facilities include the Straz Family Field House and the Gries Center for the Arts and Sciences.
Another step the school took was to raise annual tuition rates by percentages for each grade, not a flat dollar amount. That makes Berkeley more affordable for younger families, Seivold says, that might be sending children to the school for more than a decade.
An ongoing obstacle, beyond facilities and tuition, is marketing, where Seivold says “articulating our value is a real challenge.” That’s primarily because a Berkeley education, from $17,460 for the youngest students to $22,710 for the oldest, doesn’t come cheap.
The return on that investment, say school officials, is spread across campus, from a state-of-the-art TV production studio to vast athletic fields to a $90,000 concert piano. All together, it gives the 84-acre campus a college-like vibe. Getting potential students and their parents to recognize these points is the crux of the marketing challenge. “We need to get people to get curious enough to come to campus,” says Seivold.
And marketing and branding Berkeley Prep for Seivold goes deeper than boosting enrollment. It’s about the school’s image and perception in the Tampa area. That returns to Seivold’s goal of making the school a part of why a company would relocate to the area, so executives can send their kids there. To get his point across, Seivold will often ask his employees a pertinent question for any business: “If Berkeley was ever eviscerated,” he asks, “who would miss us?”
That’s Seivold’s not-so-subtle hint that what the school does outside its campus matters. That includes programs for low-income families, mentoring and a visible and philanthropic alumni base. Says Seivold: “We want to be the most important community partner we can be.”
Trustees of Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, a who’s who of business leaders, include:
- John Touchton Jr., chairman: Class of 1986, Touchton is a longtime investment banker and president of the Witt-Touchton Co.
- Allison Casper Adams: Part of the Casper family that owns multiple McDonald’s locations. An attorney and a 1987 Berkley grad, she’s a co-founder of the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.
- Bob Basham: Founder of Outback Steakhouse and fast-growing quick-service chain PDQ.
- Dirk Montgomery: Longtime senior financial executive; has overseen departments at Bloomin’ Brands, ConAgra Foods and Sara Lee Corp.
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon
Reprinted with permission, Business Observer, by Mark Gordon, Managing Editor