From Crisis Management to Strategic Planning: A Four-Step Framework

(Part One of a Two-Part Series)

By Guest Blogger Annie Crangle, Partner, Friday

In the last few weeks, I’ve spoken with school administrators, lawyers, financial advisors, and educational consultants about the new realities that K-12 schools are about to encounter. As you can imagine, these conversations have felt overwhelming. This pandemic has underscored our vulnerability, the inequities that persist in our society and education system, and outdated elements in the way some of our schools are designed.

Teachers are finding it hard to give kids the consistency and structure they need to thrive from a distance. One school leader is finding that Montessori’s hands-on principles aren’t easy to adapt to an online platform. And critical social-service nonprofits are cutting their workforces, putting additional stress on schools that can’t be addressed by digital learning curriculums.

It’s not surprising to see education leaders hustle, scramble, and innovate in response to the crisis. You’ve worked hard to provide equitable transitions for the children and families that you serve, and have, in many instances, overcome challenges surprisingly fast. But as the immediate crisis turns into our everyday reality, some of the long-term challenges seem even more daunting: How will we transition students back into a daily school routine that will look much different from before? How will teachers make up for lost learning? How will we plan for 2021 and beyond knowing budget cuts are inevitable and health protocols will fluctuate?

Having spent the past seven years guiding schools in strategic planning processes, I’ve seen first hand the value in this type of planning (pre- and post-pandemic). While a school’s charter outlines your commitment to the students you serve, a strategic plan allows you to brainstorm where you want to go next without worrying about compliance requirements. Make no mistake: A strategic plan is a serious document, but the process and outcome provide much-needed freedom to explore what’s working well, what isn’t working well, and what you aspire to achieve long term.

In the midst of all of this change, schools have a unique opportunity to innovate: Whether by choice or out of necessity, we’re likely to see a fundamental redesign of the school model, including tech advancements, more equitable digital access, smaller class sizes, adjusted school calendars, even dramatic restructuring of teacher and staff time.

 Based on strategic planning best practices, we encourage school leaders to:

  • Analyze what’s likely to change your students’ and families’ lives and the education sector at large;
  • Consider your school’s anticipated needs and evolving demands, the relevance of your current model, and overall capabilities;
  • Create a list of threats and opportunities; and
  • Identify your long-term vision for the next 5-10 years, then plan the steps you need to take each year to reach that destination.

From our experience leading strategic planning for public charter schools across the state of California, we’ve developed a framework to help schools emerge on the other side of change in a way that’s aligned to their identity and responsive to the needs of their community.

Let’s jump in.

Gather your leadership team and answer four broad questions to develop the essential building blocks of an effective plan:

1. What opportunities and challenges do we face? Develop a clear picture of our new reality and identify the most pressing challenges and risks to our model and the communities we serve.

For example, in addition to tracking economic, health, and policy trends and potential implications for your school, can you also say with certainty how the needs of your students, families, and staff have shifted? Perhaps some staff, students, and parents in your community are struggling to use the technology needed to sustain remote learning; or maybe some students need more social-emotional support.

2. How will we adapt? Sharpen your focus on the critical model and operational shifts and opportunities for innovation.

In other words, how must you change to respond? For example, given your learning targets, and the challenges of distance learning, identify new methods of teacher collaboration and professional development to equip teachers with new skills.

And how might you change to creatively meet the shifting needs? For example, for your most vulnerable students, how could you tap into young people in your community who are temporarily out of work or school to volunteer, as a way to increase individual and small group tutoring and/or mentorship for students? 

3. What’s our plan for making it happen? Map a realistic and financially viable short-term action plan; brainstorm near-term opportunities and long-term vision.

Map three potential scenarios based on different projections of health and financial status. Prioritize action steps in terms of urgency (i.e., How likely are we to need to do this?) and impact (i.e., How much will this impact our ability to serve students and families?). 

A high-priority item might be re-structuring staff given budget shortfalls, or developing a new calendar and facility plan to accommodate social-distancing requirements; a medium-priority item might be identifying donors for needed technology resources; a low-priority item might be reaching out to local colleges or universities for volunteers.

Think about what it will take to implement fundamental changes and introduce new programming (staff time, scheduling, possible stipends, etc.), while also planning for various possible financial and health scenarios. Before launching any new initiatives, also consider scheduling a focus group with your target audience to make sure the program is designed effectively.

4. How will we communicate effectively? Develop your message and communicate key shifts to your students, families, staff, and partners.

How will you keep your community informed of critical updates? How will you let them know about new opportunities and resources? (Newsletter, social media, website updates, etc.) You should also think about how you will measure the results so you can revisit periodically and make adjustments as needed.

While we recognize it is impossible to plan for every change, we believe if schools are supported to plan, they will emerge stronger on the other side of this crisis.

In our next post, we’ll help you answer each strategic question in-depth and share key insights from our experience guiding a cohort of schools through an 8-week planning process.

If you need more immediate support and you’re interested in doing this work with other school leaders facing similar challenges, consider joining Friday’s strategic planning cohort, launching the last week of May. Over an 8-week period, our team and network of expert advisors in the areas of operations, finance, legal, and school performance will guide school teams through a step-by-step process to systematically address the complexity of challenges your school is facing and to organize your team’s response.

Resources to Help Schools Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis

Originally published March 12, 2020; last updated May 19, 2020

Amid growing concerns of the rising threat of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, many governments, businesses, families, and schools are facing the responsibility of developing a response plan. School leaders also need to be ready to answer questions from concerned students, parents, and staff, as well as consider alternative learning models to support continued education in the event of a school closure.    

We know there is a lot of information out there, and it is hard to keep track of all the updates. We gathered a list of resources from government and health agencies as well as charter organizations so that we can all be better equipped to help prevent the spread of the virus, minimize the impact of disruptions, and proactively communicate our plans with those who depend on usThis list will be updated on an ongoing basis as more information becomes available.  

National Resources 

Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This interim guidance is intended to help administrators of public and private childcare programs and K-12 schools prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff. 

COVID-19 Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel by the U.S. Department of Education  

Useful information, resources, trainings, and tools for addressing infectious diseases, related topics, and protecting the school community. 

COVID-19 Resources for Charter Schools by the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools

A collection of information from trusted partners to help schools support their staff and families, including guidance on federal resources, SBA loans, distance learning, and educational equity, as well as a list of upcoming webinars. The website also includes links to information from state charter support organizations. 

Map: Coronavirus and School Closures by Education Week 

The coronavirus outbreak in the United States is prompting K-12 education leaders to shut down individual schools or entire districts. Track where closures are happening and how many students are affected. 

State-Specific Resources  

California 

School Guidance on Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 by California Department of Public Health.  

This document is intended to be statewide guidance to help both school and public health officials inform their decision making.  

Coronavirus Information and Resources by the California Department of Education

New additions as of May 11, 2020 include comprehensive guidance on topics such as distance learning, mental health, school meals, special education, and child care and student supervision, as well as a new statewide benefit program to help food insecure students.

COVID-19 Resources by California Charter Schools Association  

CCSA is providing California charter schools with guidance and sample resources to support planning and communications to your school community.  

Colorado  

COVID-19 Resources for Schools by the Colorado Department of Education  

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has created COVID-19 fact sheets, guidance for schools and childcare providers and more.  

League Member Support during COVID-19 by Colorado League of Charter Schools

Resources include news, a member survey designed to understand urgent needs, weekly support calls, and virtual learning webinars.

Georgia 

COVID-19 and Schools by the Georgia Department of Education  

Detailed guidance for school districts on the preparations to take to prepare for the potential spread of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 Guidance and Resources for Schools, Students and Families by Georgia Charter Schools Association

Information on topics such as assessment and accountability, special education, meal service, and paid sick leave, as well as a list of online resources for students and teachers.

Louisiana

COVID-19 Resources and Guidance for Schools by Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools

Includes guidance on remote learning, free family resources, and communication support such as sample letters to families.

COVID-19 Information and Resources by the Louisiana Department of Education

Up-to-date guidance for schools as well as resources for families such as a list of school meal sites and a toolkit to support learning at home.

Nevada 

School Nurse and Administrator Resources for 2019 Novel Coronavirus by Nevada Department of Health and Human Services  

Current recommendations and guidance for management of cases of COVID-19 and persons under investigation for possible infection with COVID-19.  

COVID-19 Resources by Nevada Department of Education

Tips and resources to keep Nevada’s communities safe and healthy, including online resources for schools, students, and families, and mental health resources.

New Mexico 

COVID-19 Resources for Schools by the New Mexico Public Education Department  

Includes the most current information as well as protocols, procedures, and best practices for all schools.  

Continuing to Learn by NewMexicoKidsCAN

This report includes summaries of distance learning plans from every district and charter school across the state.

New York 

COVID-19 Information and Guidance for Schools by the New York State Education Department  

This guide provides an update on measures needed to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak as well as recommended interventions and community containment measures including a checklist for schools to assist in planning.  

Tennessee  

Update on Coronavirus by Tennessee Department of Education  

The Tennessee Department of Education has prepared guidance for education leaders to help support them in making the best possible local decisions for their students, schools, and communities.  

COVID-19: A Message from TCSC and List of Resources by Tennessee Charter School Center

The message includes links to resources for school leaders and food resources for families.

This is a very challenging time, but we know educators and school leaders are uniquely equipped to demonstrate perseverance and leadership. Here at EdTec we’ll be monitoring the situation closely and will provide updated resources as needed.   

Developing A Human-Centered Approach to Community Engagement

By Jeremy Divinity, Marketing Specialist

September 25, 2019

It’s not only important to identify a school’s most significant stakeholders, it’s also essential to engage with them. This is where the idea of community engagement comes into play. Community engagement is the active participation and shared responsibility for student success between school, families, and the community. Research has proven that active community engagement can improve school readiness, academic achievement, and graduation rates.

When it comes to community engagement for charter schools, it’s beneficial to take a human-centered approach. Human-centered engagement approaches engagement from a place of deep understanding and is a way to help ensure that your community engagements are collaborative. This approach places emphasis on understanding the community’s values and hearing the families’ voices. Empathy drives the idea of human-centered engagement.

There are many ways school leaders can develop a human-centered community engagement strategy to support learning and development. Here are a few helpful recommendations for the various stakeholder groups.

Parent Engagement

Your school’s parents and families want the best for their kids, so fostering relationships with them is critical to student success. Often, parents feel like they aren’t contributing to their child’s education, which can make them feel unheard or unvalued. Involving parents within the school through active engagement efforts that communicate their roles and responsibilities as members of the school community is mutually beneficial.

You can start by asking a guiding question of “What can you tell me or what can we do that will help us to help your child learn or meet specific academic goals?”

When school leaders and parents actively co-create and co-design, it leads to the development of better programs and services that benefit students. This process begins with developing a family engagement action plan. This action plan should focus on fostering a welcoming school climate, identifying the leaders’ roles in creating a welcoming school climate, and investing in families to meet school goals.

When it comes to developing a welcoming environment, it’s essential to be visible and approachable. Enhance the experience of parents with the school through increased access to teachers and staff. First impressions are made in the front office. Michelle Gayle, a principal from Tallahassee emphasizes the importance of a friendly front office, “Office staff, teachers, and aides all take responsibility for making sure guests feel welcomed in the front office. Saying hello, providing useful information, and having a warm smile all make a difference.”

Lastly, go the extra mile! Don’t wait for parents to come in voluntarily but engage by actively reaching out. Outreach is a very human activity and can take many forms. Each touchpoint outside of the school setting, such as home visits, can make parents feel welcomed and valued as an integral part of their child’s education.

Engagement with the Broader Community

It isn’t just parents who are critical to student success and achievement; the broader community plays a role as well.

One human-centered approach to engaging the community is to create a Community Advisory Council. The council can include teachers, parents, and leaders of local businesses and organizations. A goal of the council is to identify challenges faced by both the school and the community so the two groups can work together to solve those challenges.

Like parent engagement, engaging the community requires open dialogue. In addition to the community advisory council, there are other initiatives you can take to further community participation in the school’s mission and vision. A two-way dialogue starts with inquiring the community through conversation by means of forums, surveys, canvassing, and focus groups. Townhall meetings are another way to have your ear to the voice of the community. The overall goal of inquiring initiatives is to foster relationships between your school and the community.

The other side of the dialogue is to inform the community using both traditional and non-traditional communication tools. These tools include newsletters, mailings, blogs, email, open houses, picnics, and various workshops. It’s vital to begin outreach early and consistently. Informing the community helps the community to stay in touch with what’s happening, and helps you to proactively build a network of supporters for your school.

Partnership Engagement

“I think a great partnership begins with organizations and individuals who can check logos and egos at the door and focus on what needs to get done. It’s being able to use a strengths-based approach and ask, who does what well, and then supporting that work of one another,” said Carrie Holden, president, and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.

A human-centered approach to community partnerships can provide the needed resources and benefits for school success and is a great way to leverage your school’s limited resources. There are three types of partnerships to consider: partnerships with non-profit organizations such as community organizations, cultural institutes, and education institutes; partnerships with for-profit organizations such as local businesses; and partnerships with public agencies such as public-health organizations, government, and police.

It’s critical to ensure that your partnerships within the community are natural partners. To do so, first identify the strengths of each organization through open communication, focusing on how it can support students’ social, emotional, and academic development, and how this work advances the organization’s mission. Partnerships should address gaps in the school’s abilities to serve students as this approach also provides opportunities for businesses and educators to join forces, rather than duplicate efforts, and work together to enhance outcomes for the community’s youth.

For community partners, a partnership with a charter school is beneficial to expand the reach of their services and work toward the fulfillment of their goals. As an example, many museums conduct outreach to schools to integrate their programs into the school curriculum and fulfill part of their organizational missions. For charter schools, community partnerships can help in providing needed resources in terms of facilities, funding, curriculum instruction, and other administrative support. To use the example with museums, schools benefit from receiving free educational tools and experiences to incorporate into underfunded programs.

A charter school in Memphis enriched its music program by sharing a space with a museum that was commemorating a renowned record label. As a part of the partnership, the museum brought in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra to formally mentor students. As a result of this partnership, the museum advanced its mission, and the school benefited from access to resources that resulted in a stronger music program for its students.

Implementing Engagement Strategies

A human-centered approach to community engagement starts with empathetically listening to both parents and the community alike, and then creating opportunities for these stakeholders to get involved and help to work together to boost school and student success. The key signs of success may range from increased parent attendance and participation in school events, to improved student achievement!

Have you implemented successful community engagement strategies at your school? Let us know about it in the comment section!

 

Facts about Charter Schools

Watch Your Language! How We Can Use Our Words to Reinforce Facts About Charter Schools.

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

August 8, 2019

With so many myths out there about charter schools, it’s important that we as advocates use language that encourages the spread of accurate information about our schools. This is just as important when communicating with others in our own school communities, from parents to teachers to local leaders, so that we continue to cement the very concepts that drew us to charter schools in the first place.

Charter schools are public schools. We often hear people – inside and outside the movement – referring to local district schools as “public schools” and our schools as “charter schools”. Since charter schools are public schools, we should not reserve the label of “public” for district schools, and we should instead refer to district schools as just that – district schools. Both charter schools and district schools fall under the umbrella of public schools. You may also want to consider referring to charter schools as “public charter schools” to further drive home the message.

Open Enrollment. One myth that exists about charter schools is that we’re allowed to “cherry pick” our students by administering admissions exams. Let’s make sure we always use the term “Open Enrollment” and not “Admissions”, as some may associate “admissions” with the private school or college admissions process, which involves determination based on academic record and other factors.

When open enrollment rolls around, we need to collect prospective students’ personal information so that we may enter them into a lottery for the available spaces at the school, and we do this by asking their families to fill out paperwork.  Instead of referring to this paperwork as an application, which implies a selection process (or at the very last, a formal review and determination by a greater authority), let’s aim to use another term such as “form”. While it’s true that the form must be reviewed to ensure compliance with a charter school’s lottery guidelines, we do not want to imply that students are being evaluated or judged in any way. This might seem like a small detail, but the words we use can have powerful implications that either support or detract from the truth about charter schools.

To reinforce that all students are eligible for enrollment in charter schools so long as they meet the requirements outlined in the lottery guidelines approved by the schools’ authorizer, we can post these guidelines at the school and remind stakeholders that students are randomly selected during the lottery.

Accountability. We often hear from critics that charter schools aren’t accountable and don’t have to abide by the same rules as district schools; that charters can “do whatever they want”. While charter schools have some regulatory freedoms relative to district schools, which allow charter schools to meet the unique needs of their communities, we accept this flexibility in exchange for increased accountability for student and operational results. New charter schools are required to submit a robust charter application that outlines the school’s proposed educational program, governance structure, budget, and additional details specific to each authorizer, and must renew their application every few years in order to continue existing (how often depends on the authorizer).

Renewing a charter school involves submitting a charter renewal application in which the school must show tangible progress toward the goals laid out in the original petition.  Schools may be denied renewal for poor academic performance or financial mismanagement, so this is serious business.

Let the members of your community know how charter schools are held fully accountable in a multitude of areas throughout the year as well as how they are required to prove – every few years – whether they’ve earned the privilege of continuing to serve their students and families. We can communicate our accountability by keeping our stakeholders in the loop when we’re going through the renewal process or fulfilling another local compliance requirement. This can be as simple as briefly sharing these milestones and achievements in the employee and parent newsletters and at board meetings.

Let’s remind the people of our communities – across the spectrum of advocates, critics, and the uninformed – that charter schools are about choice, accountability, and innovation.

What other positive language suggestions do you have for charter school advocates? We’d love to hear from you and build out our recommendations. Leave us a note in the comments section!

Finalizing Your Charter School Budget

By Dena Koren, Senior Director of Client Management 

Updated May 2019 (originally published in June 2017)

The end of the school year is upon us, and many charter schools are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their budgets for the 2019-2020 school year. This can be overwhelming given all the moving parts —finalizing staff compensation, collecting final proposals for next year’s contracts, deciding which software and curriculum to use, tracking down budget plans from all the department leads, and preparing to present to your Board of Directors… all while trying to finish out the school year!

Here’s my advice: Don’t sweat it! There is no way you are going to have all these items finalized by the time you need to send your budget to the board for approval. Plus, there are many aspects of the budget that are completely out of your control. Instead of worrying, try this approach:

  1. Pick two or three areas of the charter school budget you’re going to focus on in the 11th hour. These should be areas of the charter school budget that are either your most significant sources of revenue or expense or have caused problems in the past. And don’t pick “staff”! (See my next suggestion below for wrapping up your compensation budget.) Once you have picked your areas of focus, set aside a designated time (~30 minutes for each area) to dig in and try to firm up the assumptions — then put a bow on it! Once the new school year starts and you have access to new and/or updated information, you can work with your Finance Director or adviser to adjust the annual forecast.
  2. For staffing, again — do your bestFinalize the charter school budget with the information you know now and include reasonable and conservative assumptions for the things you don’t know.At some point, you must stop trying to get everything locked up and just go with what you have. But being conservative will help you to avoid the frustration of going over budget down the road.
  3. Make a list of the areas where you feel assumptions aren’t solidand over the summer, push to solidify them. Also, be upfront with your board about the areas of uncertainty (note: no need to share every uncertainty, just the ones you feel are the biggest opportunities/risks.) I find that outlining the missing information at a high level strengthens the board’s comfort with the financial plan. Board members will appreciate the transparency and feel reassured knowing you are aware of the uncertainties and on top of all the moving parts.
  4. For most charter schools, budgeting is an art, not a science. There are countless details, many of them unknown or unknowable, so we just do our best with what we have and keep pushing for improved clarity as the year goes on!

EdTec supports startup charter schools with building strong, compliant charter application budgets, and we work with operating schools to put together annual budgets as part of our back office services. To learn more about EdTec and discuss how we can support your school, please email us at askus@edtec.com.

Engaging Parents as a Powerful Marketing Tool

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

April 29, 2019

When thinking about how to spread the word about our charter schools and create an enrollment pipeline for future years, we often target parents of prospective students. We organize school tours, hang up flyers at community events, and advertise upcoming open enrollment dates on the school marquee. These are all smart, important marketing actions, but we also need to remember to pay attention to our largest group of built-in ambassadors: parents of current students! When parents are happy, good news about our schools will spread among their networks through word-of-mouth – a powerful marketing tool that can also do much damage if this important stakeholder group is unhappy or ignored.

Assess the Current Situation

Before you can attract new families to your school, you want to make sure the current school community is satisfied with your performance, so you’re not caught off guard when parents of prospective students ask you to explain something they’ve heard. Parents of current students are a great resource when you want an honest review of what is going well and what isn’t. Here are a few easy, helpful ways to solicit parent feedback.

Annual Surveys

Most schools already administer an annual parent survey as a state requirement. Take advantage of this opportunity to understand how happy parents are with current school operations, including areas such as extracurricular activities and course offerings. Make sure the survey is comprehensive but not too long, as we want to encourage high response and completion rates. It’s also important to include optional, open-ended questions that do not limit answer choices. This way, you’re making it easy for busy parents to provide quick feedback, while also giving those with more to say an opportunity to share their thoughts.

Consider sharing the survey results in a parent newsletter or other medium; the more transparent you are with the results; the more parents will feel you recognize and care about what they have to say. It doesn’t stop there, though – to show parents that we value them as critical members of our school communities, we must show a commitment to progress toward improvement. For example, if most parents reveal they are less than satisfied with the availability of extracurricular activities, open this up for discussion at committee and board meetings and invite parents to join a task force to explore options. If we’re all talk and no action, parents will eventually catch on and assume the school has no interest in their opinions.

Focus Groups

While surveys are a great way to get high-level feedback about broad categories of school operations, it’s also important to be able to take a deeper dive into more specific topics. We can accomplish this by organizing parent focus . Keep the groups on the small side – no more than ten participants – so that all parents have the chance to speak up and don’t feel overwhelmed by a large group. Make sure to offer participants the chance to provide written feedback as well in case there is something they don’t feel comfortable sharing in a group setting. While you can still structure the discussion around more broad categories to make sure you touch on various topics, be sure to invite parents to comment on anything that is on their mind.

During the focus groups, make sure to encourage participants to share thoughts about what they are happy with as well as what they think needs improvement, so we know where we should continue to focus resources and where we might need to make changes. For example, if parents share that they are dissatisfied with the current library hours, school leadership can open this up for discussion at committee and board meetings to decide if it is financially and operationally feasible to extend library hours. If parents express excitement at the new STEM-focused programs, we know this is a valuable investment we should continue to explore.

The focus group initiative can be led by a school site council, on its own or in collaboration with a parent advisory group. It’s important to advertise the focus groups in multiple places to encourage participation of diverse groups. For example, schools can include a call for focus group participants in the parent newsletter, in materials for various parents’ group meetings, or by making an announcement at a parent event such as a regular “Coffee with the Principal” or information night. While continuity among participants is important and helps us to stay accountable, we should open the groups to new participants every now and then to make sure we’re receiving feedback that is representative of our audience. If the group gets too big, it can be split into multiple groups. In terms of meeting frequency, because these are more intimate conversations that we want to be able to build on, try to meet two or three times per year.

Create A Culture of Feedback

If we make the feedback process a regular part of school operations, parents will get used to sharing their thoughts and the quality of feedback will continue to improve. This will also train school leaders to become comfortable with both positive and negative feedback and consider it an integral part of school site planning, as well as alert school leaders to potential areas of improvement to be considered when putting together the school budget or setting the class schedule or activities calendar for the upcoming school year. Most importantly, it will signal to parents that your school values their feedback and wants them to be happy with the choice they made for their child. Happy parents translate into positive word of mouth marketing and a stronger pipeline of future students!

Moreover, this culture of feedback will lead to stronger relationships with parents and encourage them to get involved with school initiatives. This increased engagement will allow you to build a critical support network of volunteers and advocates with a genuine interest in helping the school to meet its goals and strengthen its presence in the community.

Use Feedback to Inform Marketing

In addition to promoting positive relations with parents of current students, feedback can be used to inform marketing efforts that aim to attract new parents. For example, if several parents of current students mentioned in a focus group that they are impressed by the school’s robotics program, school leaders can plan to include a stop by the robotics room during the next school tour to show it off to families considering the school as an option for their child.  Similarly, if survey results have shown that access to Advanced Placement courses is of high importance to parents of current students, school leaders will know to highlight this on the school website and in marketing materials distributed to parents of prospective students.

Conclusion

While it is important to be thinking of how to attract parents of prospective students and secure enrollment for future school years, it is also important to remember not to lose sight of our most important stakeholders – the families we currently serve. This group is our most helpful window into what we are doing well and how we can improve.  After all, we can only provide new families with a quality public school option if we’re successful in our current endeavors!

Tackling the Challenges of Central Office Hiring for Schools

By Guest Blogger Kevin Bryant, Principal, Edgility Consulting

March 1, 2019

Not much is written about hiring practices for central office staff in schools, and understandably so. Teachers make up the large majority of hires made by individual schools, districts and charter networks. Also, the important work of educating students happens in classrooms and science labs, not in office cubicles, so this hiring is rarely a priority in our work until we have a “fire drill.” Still, central office hiring is an important function of many schools and networks, with serious implications for school organizations when poorly managed.

Central office teams oversee vital regulatory and business functions, and many of the most successful districts and CMOs rely heavily on support from these professionals for valuable expertise and added capacity. Therefore, these hires matter. For some organizations, these teams are made up of only a handful of employees, for others a few hundred. During my time at Uncommon Schools (a charter school network headquartered in the New York area), we were over 200. Regardless of size, the work of these teams can range from accreditation and curriculum design to HR and external relations. Ultimately, how well schools are able to serve students, depends on how well central office teams are able to support schools.

Challenges of Central Office Hiring

As one might expect, a limited budget often tops the list of constraints facing central office hiring managers. However, many other challenges exist as well. Here is a quick list of challenges central office recruiting teams and hiring managers often face.

External factors, such as:

  • Competition for talent from (big budget) private sector employers. (At Uncommon, we were at battle with giants like Goldman, Google, and JP Morgan.)
  • Fewer alumni on staff often leading to fewer referrals.
  • Less recognizable brands often leading to less overall interest from job seekers.

Internal factors, such as:

  • Outdated and slower to update systems and process improvements.
  • Long hours for less pay.
  • Less well-defined career paths.
  • And, many times, a culture that is slow to terminate for underperformance. (The education sector wants to have strong business functions, without the accountability of the business sector. Ultimately, it is schools and kids who suffer.)

Sadly, these conditions often create a “revolving door” of high-quality talent, as employees are drawn to greener pastures with better pay or greater appreciation. With their departures, go a wealth of institutional knowledge, and recruiting teams and hiring managers are again faced with an unwanted, often unanticipated central office hiring process. A vicious cycle with an unrelenting grip on our time, and attention.

Potential Solutions

That is, until we choose to fight back. See, despite the frustrations and challenges of central office hiring, there are certain advantages to our nimbleness and flexibility. Schools are finding innovative approaches to improve student performance. We, too, should be finding creative ways to overcome our hiring challenges. The traditional model of hiring is outdated and ineffective. Here is a quick list of recommendations for moving central office hiring in a more thoughtful and strategic direction:

  • Win over otherwise outpriced candidates by appealing to their desire to make a difference and leave a legacy. (Ex: Work as an IT specialist, and volunteer to teach an after-school coding class once a week)
  • Offer generous benefit plans to offset the pay gap (Ex: health and dental plans, PTO days, 403b matching, etc.)
  • Attract additional candidates by offering greater flexibility (Ex: flex-days, or other remote work options. At Uncommon, we had the freedom to work from our Home Office or at a school campus.)
  • Revisit hiring a back-office provider or outsource certain services to redirect funds and focus to classrooms and schools.
  • Offer leadership opportunities aligned with organizational priorities, or social movements. (Ex: At Uncommon, I was invited in my second year to join a diversity-recruitment focused steering committee.)

This list is not exhaustive, but directional. Begin by answering the question, “what can we as a school uniquely offer to top candidates?”

Prepare for Your Audit! Steps 5 & 6: Review and Submit Your Audit 

By EdTec Staff

November 14, 2018

You’ve made your way through the first four steps of the audit cycle – now all that’s left to do is review the audit report and submit!  For California charters, these last two steps occur in November and December.   

Contents of an Audit Report

An audit report contains 14 sections. See the chart below for a summary of the information included in each section, as well as why each section is important.

While all sections of the report contain useful information, the most revealing is the Audit Year Findings section, where the auditor addresses issues identified throughout the auditing process that represent a deficiency in the charter school’s internal controls. There are two types of findings – a material weakness, which is the most severe finding; and a significant deficiency, which represents a less severe finding but still warrants flagging and correction. The auditor’s findings outline what the charter school did or did not do that was incorrect or improper, as well as the generally accepted expectation for what the school should have done. The findings also provide detail around the impact of the deficiencies on the school’s financial statements, as well as recommendations for what school leadership should do to resolve these issues.  

Common audit findings for charter schools include inadequate resourcing or tagging of restricted fund activity; missing documentation such as credit card receipts; lack of adherence to purchase or approval policies and thresholds; untimely deposition of funds; improper capitalization of assets; and compliance issues.  

Reviewing the Audit & Preparing a Response

It is important for school leadership to review the audit report for accuracy of information, as well as to make sure they understand all findings. For example, were the findings a result of a lack of adequate policies in place, or rather a staff violation of existing policies? Then, staff must prepare a response acknowledging or contesting the findings. The response should provide additional context and/or an outline of corrective action to be taken, where appropriate. Perhaps the school plans to draft revised purchasing policies or increase education and training to make sure all staff understand the current policies.  

This response is typically prepared by the school’s business office staff, who may find it helpful to reach out to their back-office services provider for assistance with explaining previous actions, as well as with implementing new policies and processes designed to help prevent future findings.  Some responses may also require consultation with legal counsel. Once complete, the response should be reviewed by the charter school board before submission to the auditor.

The Final Step 

Once the board has reviewed the response and has signed off on the rest of the audit report, the auditor will submit a final report to the designated authority. Audit reports for California charters must be submitted to the California Department of Education by December 15.  

 

 

Part 2 Rethinking Compensation: A Tactical Guide

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

September 10, 2018

In our last blog post, we noted that compensation ought to address the needs of teachers and staff, as well as to the organization’s own objectives. We recommend that you start with establishing a sense of just how competitive you want your compensation to be, and in what specific roles and markets.

Ask your team and board:

  • What is our total value proposition?
  • How competitive do we want/need to be?
  • Where are we in our growth cycle?
  • What is it that we want to reward in this organization?
  • Who are our staff?
  • How do we balance paying competitive market rates with maintaining internal equity?

Doing the Research: How to Study Market Rates

To create a market-based compensation structure, you’ll need to understand where you stand relative to the market, which depending on your organization may include the local school district, similar organizations, as well as other nonprofits, public agencies, and even companies who might be competing with your organization for talent in key roles. Wherever possible, stick to comparisons with your own organization’s industry, mission, geography, and budget/staff size.

To find comparable compensation data, consider searching:

  • Job postings
  • Industry-specific surveys
  • Publicly available data, such as district pay scales, nonprofits’ IRS form 990s (which report pay for the mostly highly compensated employees in each organization) through Guidestar or the Foundation Center, and databases like Transparent California, which logs compensation information for public employees in California

Try to use at least three sources to ensure that the data is sound. At Edgility, we are wary of sites like Glassdoor and Payscale, who sometimes report salaries for jobs based on a very small sample size. We prefer specialized databases like CompAnalyst, which is updated monthly to keep up with fluctuations in the market and covers more than 4,000 benchmark jobs gathered from comprehensive employer surveys.

Creating a Compensation Structure

With data about your organization’s compensation philosophy and comparable market salaries in hand, you can then consider building a pay structure, including:

  • Pay grades or levels, in which similar jobs are grouped together. For example, an entry-level data associate, a reception clerk, and a paraprofessional might all be included in the same grade, with the averages of their market salaries used as the midpoint for that grade, or you might group all principals or program managers in the same grade.
  • Pay ranges or salary spans within those grades or for each role — according to ZipRecruiter, the range typically extends 30% range of the midpoint or average market salary for a junior or support role, 40% for mid-level management, and 50% for executives. New hires tend to earn around the middle of that range, and experienced top performers earn 80-100%.

For particularly large or complex organizations, pay schedules may be created, which vary by business line (in the case of a school organization, this may vary between school sites and the central office) or by location based on the cost of living and competitor salaries in that market.

For example, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector suggests this starting point salary schedule for teachers in public Montessori charter schools, along with benefits, 2% yearly step increases, periodic retention bonuses, and stipends for taking on additional responsibilities.

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Finally, map current jobs and salaries against the new structure to determine whether your new compensation structure matches existing pay, including whether there is equity across levels, roles, and other characteristics. You’ll get an immediate sense of whether there is equity across the organization, and whether there are adjustments that need to be made.

What Matters Most: What Happens When You Address Compensation

Organizations that take a strategic, research-based approach to compensation find that new employee salaries are easier to set, and that existing employees feel more properly valued and compensated.

“Compensation analysis helped us determine highly beneficial changes that are attracting and retaining top talent,” agrees Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track.

At Compass Charter Schools, Superintendent & CEO J.J. Lewis says his team recently shared a new compensation structure and benefits package with staff, who were pleased that salaries will now account for past teaching experience. Teachers and non-instructional staff will also receive bonuses tied to criteria like workload, enrollment, and student performance.

Over time, happy and appropriately compensated employees translate into less turnover, more stability, and greater productivity — an effort we think is well worth the cost.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.

Part 1 Rethinking Compensation: A Matter of Value

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

August 31, 2018

Staffing is a critical ingredient for any education organization — and finding the right people has never been tougher. For decades, the supply of new teachers has been slowing down, particularly in critical subject areas such as math, science, and English language learning, as well as in high-need low-income schools. Enrollment has dropped in both traditional teacher preparation programs as well as alternative certification routes like Teach for America.

Meanwhile, the rising Millennial generation tends to avoid teaching, wary of what they perceive as a difficult profession with few upsides. “Our generation is impatient and eager to take on greater responsibility and assume leadership roles. Most school districts just aren’t structured to do that,” laments former teacher Jonathan Cetel.

Indeed, across the teaching profession, satisfaction has been decreasing — particularly among teachers of color and those most needed in high-need subjects and schools. “The teaching workforce continues to be a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year—the majority of them before retirement age,” note analysts at the Learning Policy Institute.

While teachers leave for a whole host of reasons, including poor school cultures and lackluster working conditions, compensation is a very real part of the problem — but also a promising part of the solution.

Balancing the Pay Scale

Many education organizations, particularly startup schools trying to make the most of every grant and per-pupil dollar, worry primarily about paying too much for the talent they recruit. In a previous post on this blog, EdTec found that charter schools spend 59% of their budget on salaries and benefits, with brand new schools spending a bit less (53%) and established schools spending more (64%). Many schools choose to hire brand-new teachers and Teach for America corps members in order to stretch their funding, while others pinch pennies on principal and central office salaries so as not to raise board member eyebrows or public scrutiny.

But the cost of paying too little can also add up fast. For every employee who leaves, a district or school spends thousands more on recruiting and training their replacement — as much as $20,000 per employee, finds the Learning Policy Institute. That adds up to a teacher turnover tab of somewhere between $2.2 billion and $7.3 billion nationally each year — not to mention the time and energy required by existing staff to do the recruiting and training, let alone the effect of these frequent changes to colleagues’ working dynamics and to schools’ relationships with students and their families.

Of course, compensation is not a silver bullet for all staffing needs, nor should it stand alone. Compensation should be tied to overall organizational objectives, and to the needs of teachers. Teachers believe in fairness, equity and transparency, and are interested in being compensated for years of experience and degrees (even though research shows that neither of these measures are tied to student learning). Generally, research has found that teachers are not interested in pay-for-performance but somewhat more interested in incentive pay for teaching in hard-to-staff subjects and schools, as well as differentiated pay based on responsibilities and on value-add or growth in student learning.

For example, my organization Edgility Consulting worked with Compass Charter Schools, an online school with 100 staff members serving 17 counties throughout California. Compass recognized that they were competing with more online and brick-and-mortar schools throughout the state for talent, but had no formal compensation structure in place. “2017-18 was a year of both change and growth for Compass. As part of this change and growth, we sought to better understand our competitiveness in the marketplace and if we were being fair and equitable with our total compensation with our staff, as compared to our peer charter schools,” says J.J. Lewis, Superintendent & CEO of Compass.

By conducting focus groups, we learned that teachers and other staff were generally satisfied with their current salaries (although some felt their prior teaching experience was undervalued), but wanted greater equity across the team and more transparency into their earning potential. We helped Compass create a compensation structure with clear guidelines, that recognizes prior teaching experience, and with bonuses tied to student load, student success, and program quality.

Considering Central Office Compensation

Of course, compensation considerations must also extend beyond teachers to include principals, administrators, and other staff, who may be even more likely than teachers to be considering non-education jobs as alternatives to their school-based roles.

For example, we conducted a study of central office compensation for ACE Charter Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator in San Jose, California that now runs four schools serving about 2000 students but is considering national expansion. ACE had recently completed a salary study for teaching staff and wanted to ensure its central office staff were being paid market competitive rates. Upon comparison with districts and charters of similar scale in the San Francisco Bay Area, we found that ACE was generally paying competitively, and provided them with market data to communicate that to staff. In addition, we offered ideas on other types of rewards and recognition to help these employees feel valued.

We also studied the central office compensation of Mastery Charter Schools, a charter school turnaround operator with 24 schools in two states that serve 14,000 students. Mastery was hoping to be more transparent, consistent, and competitive as it grew. Using external market research, we developed market-based salary ranges, mapped internal positions to the structure, and identified staff who fell outside the structure as well as scenarios for reconciling that discrepancy.

Likewise, education nonprofit College Track is a national college completion program that empowers more than 3,000 students annually to earn a college degree and achieve upward social mobility, with more than 100 staff in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro Area. They “re-benchmark” their compensation every few years against a set of larger and more complex organizations in order to stay competitive.

We now understand how our compensation and benefits compare to similar organizations in our industry and geographic markets and we were able to get clear on role descriptions and the markets in which they compete, as well as assess our benefits package overall,” says Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track. For example, the compensation analysis highlighted distinctions between different program roles that in turn yielded better comparable salaries to use as benchmarks, and indicated that a more competitive family leave plan would be more valued by their employees.

The Comp Curve: Watch the Road Ahead

Typically, teachers’ dissatisfaction with their salary — as with their working conditions and opportunities for growth — tends to grow as they gain experience. As such, you should be sure to take into account increases over time, and consider developing not only fair compensation frameworks but rather full career pathways that address professional growth and fulfillment as well as pay.

For example, we studied the compensation at Benjamin Banneker Charter School, a single site charter school in Cambridge, Massachusetts with high satisfaction and low turnover. This is despite the fact that Banneker pays their teachers below the market median. The school invests that saved money in robust professional development and significant flexible funds for student projects and field trips. Teachers feel supported, but are also groomed for and promoted into leadership roles. We worked with the organization to establish clear guidelines for salaries and raises based on experience, but teachers were adamant — they would not trade higher salaries for those other more important benefits.

For more guidance on how to go about studying your organization’s compensation against the market and setting up a clear, equitable, and transparent framework — as well as more details on the results these organizations have achieved by clarifying their own compensation strategies — check back next week for our follow-up blog post.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.