Public Charter Schools Grant Program

Streamline Your PCSGP Grant Application with EdTec

The California Department of Education has announced a request for applications for the Public Charter Schools Grant Program (PCSGP) 2023-24 Start-Up Sub-Grant.

The PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant is intended for the planning and implementation of newly established or conversion charter schools who did not begin serving students prior to July 1, 2022, as well as the expansion and replication of high-quality charter schools. Replication and Expansion applicants should note that the 2023–24 PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant RFA includes updated high-quality eligibility criteria.

Application Deadline: December 18, 2023

Your Path to PCSGP Funding Starts Here

Securing funding for your school can be a complex and time-consuming process. That’s why we offer expert support for the Public Charter Schools Grant Program (PCSGP) Start-Up Sub-Grant application process.

Proven Success: Our experienced team has a proven history of securing PCSGP funding.
Budget Friendly: We offer flat fees or hourly rates that suit your school’s budget.
Customized Support: Whether you need assistance with the entire writing process or just one step of the process, EdTec has you covered.

Ready to explore how EdTec can be your partner in securing funding for your school? Reach out to our team today to learn more about our support for the PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant and discover how we can help your school achieve its funding goals.

Charter School Data Management

Don’t Have a Data Lead at Your Charter School? No Problem!

At EdTec, we believe that success is built upon collaboration. Our team of charter experts forms a strong partnership with your school, providing the strategic insight needed to keep you firmly on track towards your educational goals. We meet charter school leaders exactly where they are, offering expert guidance and comprehensive solutions to troubleshoot challenges, streamline processes, and create efficiencies.

Your Compass in the Sea of Data

Our team works with you to maximize your system’s features and benefits. We offer support with scheduling, report cards, and gradebook and GPA setup, and we can also create custom reports. Our team can also provide training as well as extend year-round helpdesk support to your team.

We recognize that charter schools operate within a unique landscape, and that’s why our support is charter-specific and real-time. You’ll have consistent access to a dedicated member of our team who specializes in charter schools. There is no wasted time spent navigating call menus or re-explaining an issue to a different support person unfamiliar with your school’s history and the specific requirements charters must meet.

Fuel Growth Through Student Achievement Analysis

Numbers tell a story, and we’re here to help you decipher it. Our experts perform comprehensive student achievement analyses, showcasing your school’s growth and progress. Our analysis includes an overview of school-wide performance, longitudinal cohort analysis, and insights into performance of grade levels and subgroups on state and local assessments, such as NWEA and i-Ready. We can also compare your school’s performance to state and local benchmarks,, Our analysis allows you to identify where things are going well as well as where extra supports may be needed, empowering you to make decisions that bolster student success.

Harness the Power of Learning Management Solutions

Through our partnership with Otus, a K-12 all-in-one Data, Assessment, and Learning Management Solution, you’ll have t a holistic view of your student’s performance by collecting and using data from multiple sources.

Create and share formative and summative assessments, track progress over time, differentiate instruction, and deliver personalized learning. Customization allows you to view performance by student group to ensure all students are growing and on pace to meet their goals. EdTec provides the Otus platform to charter schools large and small with attractive solution pricing and charter-specific, customized support.

Chart Your Course with Confidence

Navigating the waters of charter applications and renewals can be daunting, but you don’t have to go it alone. Our team of experts provides guidance to ensure your charter applications and renewals are not only strong and compliant but also aligned with your school’s vision and goals. With EdTec by your side, you can confidently steer your charter through the process with grace.

Plan for Renewal with Confidence

EdTec works with schools to develop strong, compliant, and successful charter renewal applications. Our expert team provides support with narrative development and student performance analysis, all while making sure your school’s goals are in alignment with your mission and vision. and budget creation.

Shape College-Ready Futures with Postsecondary Data Analysis

Through our partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse® EdTec offers the StudentTracker® for High Schools service to charter schools bundled with EdTec’s robust, charter-specific data services.

StudentTracker® for High Schools provides information about your graduates’ college enrollment, persistence, and completion. EdTec acts as your data lead, managing the data upload and reporting process. This valuable postsecondary data and analysis resource empowers schools to track goals tied to college readiness and completion and demonstrate progress for renewal and other compliance requirements.

Actionable School Plans in Partnership with Seasoned Charter Experts

At EdTec, we’re advocates, collaborators, and partners in your mission to provide an excellent education for your students. Our data and assessment services are designed to empower you with the tools, information, and insights needed to bolster student outcomes and fulfill the mission and vision of your charter.

Ready to harness the power of data? Reach out to us today to learn more about our charter school data and assessment services!

Making the Most of the Relationship with your Charter School Back Office Partner | Part 3 of 3

August 18, 2023

You’ve worked hard to choose the right charter school back office services partner, now it’s time to make the relationship flourish! A good relationship is built on a foundation of mutual understanding of expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Read on for a few best practices and tips for a smooth working relationship.

Clarify Responsibilities

Understanding what your charter school back office partner will provide for your school is critical. Once a school leader and board understand what is covered, they can fill any remaining gaps with additional staff or staff allocations to particular tasks. This understanding aids in the efficient completion of back office tasks and avoids costly mistakes that can be time consuming to fix.

Communication is Key

Address any communication and information transfer issues with internal staff and the back office partner quickly so efficient business routines are established from the outset of the relationship.

Quality Checks Start on Day One

Address response time and service level issues early so they do not become a problem. Gently, but firmly, keep the provider accountable for what is included in the contract to ensure that your needs and expectations are being met. Just as you do not settle for substandard work in the classroom, do not settle for it from your back office partner. And remember: excellence in the classroom can either be furthered or inhibited by the quality of your back office operations.

Delegate Internally

Assign a point person who is responsible for communicating with your back office partner for each function (e.g., accounts payable, payroll, etc.) Additionally, assign a person or team of people (e.g., school leader and board member) to oversee the work and make sure it all ties together. For example, a board member who is comfortable with financial statements should review the financial reports of the service provider and communicate questions and/or concerns.

Take the Time to Understand Your Financial Situation

Schedule time each month to review the financials in detail to understand your school’s current financial position, review budget variances, and discuss what assumptions are informing the forecast updates Even with a back office partner, charter school leaders will always need to be involved in critical decisions to ensure the financial stability of their school, and the board has fiduciary responsibility for the school.

Seek Guidance

Don’t hesitate to call upon the charter school back office support company for support. That’s what they’re there for; they’re your partner!

As a school leader, you put tremendous time, energy, and effort into ensuring that your students have the best teachers and the necessary resources to reach their potential. To ensure that your charter school, both as a business and learning center, reaches its highest potential, you need access to the finest support and resources.

If you’re interested in learning more about EdTec’s back office services and how we can support your school’s success, fill out the form below!  

charter school back office questions

Critical Questions to Ask When Choosing a Back Office Partner | Part 2 of 3

August 7, 2023

This is the second post of a three-part series on the stages of partnering with a back office support company for charter schools. The first part of the series explored the benefits of using a high-quality back office support company

Once your charter school has decided to work with a back office support company, the school’s leadership and board will need to determine which one is the best fit. A back office support company should be more than simply a vendor; it should be a strategic partner that has as much invested in the success of the school as the staff and board! While the handling of tasks and transactions will free up more time for you to focus on the school’s academic program, a true partner will help to align your budget and operations in support of that academic program.  

With so much at stake, it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure that your school makes an informed decision. The following questions will help you determine where your school needs support, understand the services included in the back office bundle, assess the company’s flexibility in adjusting to your needs over time, and evaluate their service delivery staffing model and overall experience.  

Where do we need help?

The foundation for any successful relationship is knowing what you bring to the partnership and what you need from your partner, so it is crucial that the school staff and board do their research and carefully choose a provider that matches those needs. Identify the gaps in skills and knowledge of your staff and board. Do you already have a well-staffed business office and need a bookkeeper to provide transactional support, or are you looking for CFO-level guidance to help you plan for financial stability? Do you need support finding and financing a facility? Are there certain back-office functions that you want to keep in house?

What specifically is included in the service bundle?

Understand what is offered and what is not. Seek detailed clarification on pricing, depth, and frequency of services. For example, how often are cash flow and budget forecasts updated? Does the company provide audit support? What tools are made available to the school for on-demand visibility to its financial data? Will company representatives attend your board meetings to present updates and answer questions? Then determine if those services and tools match the expectations and needs of the school staff and board.

Can the service flexibility adjust to my needs over time?

Ask if the provider will tailor services to your needs or if it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. What defined service level options are available? Further, as your school evolves and your needs change over time, will the provider adjust its scope to meet your requirements?

What is the service delivery staffing model?

Find out if the provider has specialized staff with deep expertise in each functional area or if a single individual is attempting to wear multiple hats. Ask how many schools are assigned to your primary support resource and find out each company’s staff to client ratio. Additionally, clarify if you will have direct access to transactional support teams to troubleshoot issues as they arise.

What will the service delivery experience be like?

While the back-office services described by different companies may appear to be similar on paper, there can be tangible differences related to service delivery approach, support levels, and communication. Your best course is to spend the necessary time speaking with current clients of each provider to hear firsthand about their experiences. You might ask about responsiveness to requests, turnaround time, accuracy in reporting and projections, knowledge of compliance requirements, and proactivity in planning for the future. Additionally, don’t be satisfied with a few reference schools that have been selected for you by the provider; ask providers for a complete list of their back-office clients so that you can choose which schools to contact when performing reference checks.

Choosing a back office support company for your charter school is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on the school’s financial and operational success. At EdTec, we understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing charter schools, and we’re committed to providing comprehensive, flexible, and responsive back office services that meet the specific needs of each school we work with. 

If you’re interested in learning more about EdTec’s back office services and how we can support your school’s success, fill out the form below!  

 

Charter School Back Office Questions to Ask

From Compliance to Cost Savings: How a Back Office Support Company Can Benefit Your Charter School | Part 1 of 3

July 31, 2023

As a charter school leader, running a successful school while fulfilling your school’s mission is your primary focus. However, you are also tasked with managing the business side of things, and smooth back office operations are critical to the success of every charter school. Keeping up with the administrative, business, and operations tasks with so much on your plate can be challenging. This is where a back office support company can help! Back office support companies provide a wide range of services to charter schools so that school leaders can focus their attention on where it matters most – fulfilling the vision of their charter.

The scope of back office services for charter schools varies, and may include accounting, budgeting, financial reporting and analysis, accounts payable and receivable, audit support, facilities, payroll, and human resources.  In this blog post, the first of a three-part series, we’ll explore five benefits of using a high-quality back office support company.

Focus on Providing Quality Education

Charter schools have an important mission to provide access to a high-quality public education. However, unlike traditional public schools, charters do not have a district central office to handle business functions. In turn, charter school leaders are responsible for both overseeing school operations and meeting the needs of students. By hiring a back office support company, charter school leaders can outsource the daily management of tasks such as payroll, budgeting, compliance, and financial reporting, freeing up more time to focus on educational outcomes. While charter school leaders will always need to be involved in critical decisions to ensure the financial stability of their school, a partnership with a back office support company allows them to do this together with experts.  

Cost Savings and Stability

Cost savings and stability are significant additional benefits of using a back office support company. By partnering with a third-party provider rather than hiring and managing a full-time business office staff, charter school leaders can leverage economies of scale that allow back office companies to provide services at a lower cost. This cost savings in administrative support frees up more dollars for the classroom, to invest in areas such as teacher salaries, facilities, educational materials, and equipment. Further, a back office company with scale provides critical stability to your school’s business operations by providing uninterrupted services and support. The outsourced back office model can insulate your school from the disruptions and related costs that would otherwise arise from school business office staff turnover, vacations, sick days, or medical leave in the purely internal staffing model. Although back office support companies are not immune to those staffing challenges, providers with scale have sufficient staffing capacity across functions and the structure to absorb and manage those disruptions, including the recruiting, hiring, and training of new staff, all while continuing to deliver uninterrupted service to their school clients. 

Expertise and Best Practices

Back office companies offer charter schools the expertise and experience to handle business tasks effectively and efficiently. Back office companies that specialize in supporting charter schools stay up to date on the latest sector best practices, funding sources, and related compliance requirements, to ensure that your school is running smoothly, maximizing available funding, and in compliance with local, state, and federal requirements. Additionally, a high-quality back office support company can provide insightful financial analysis and scenario modeling for proactive, strategic decision making. This specialized level of charter school expertise is especially valuable forstart-up charter schools

Scalability

Charter schools may experience rapid growth or fluctuating enrollment due to various external factors, making it challenging to manage operations effectively. However, some back office support companies offer scalable solutions meaning they can adjust their services to meet the current needs of your school, whether you’re experiencing growth or a downturn in enrollment. As a result, back office support companies offer the opportunity for charter schools to remain nimble and adapt to changing circumstances without sacrificing administrative support. 

Increased Transparency and Accountability

Charter schools are accountable to stakeholders and must meet high compliance standards and fiscal transparency. A back office support company can increase transparency and accountability in your school’s financial operations. As a third-party provider, a back office support company provides an objective view of your school’s financials, identifying areas where cost savings can be achieved or financial controls need to be strengthened. This level of oversight can help charter schools build trust with stakeholders, including parents, donors, and authorizers.  

 

In conclusion, there are many benefits to hiring a back office support company for your charter school. By delegating certain tasks to a back office provider, charter school leaders can reduce costs, benefit from expertise and best practices, scale appropriately, increase transparency and accountability – and, most importantly, have more time to focus on providing a high-quality education! 

If you’re considering a back office support company for your charter school, take time to research providers thoroughly and choose one that aligns with your school’s needs and values. If you want to learn more about EdTec’s back office services, contact us today! 

 

Tune into Education Strategy with EdTec’s Partner, Friday

EdTec’s Jeremy Divinity, a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University, was joined by Friday’s Annie Crangle and Dr. Jeffrey Hunt to discuss the power of strategic planning during a crisis in a recent podcast episode titled, “From Crisis Management to Strategic Planning“.

During the podcast episode, Annie and Dr. Hunt talk insights from FORWARD, a recent strategic planning cohort designed to support charter school leaders in developing solid reopening plans grounded in a long-term strategic vision. As partners, EdTec’s experts participated in the cohort by providing school leaders with additional expertise in operations, finance, and student data analytics. In addition, in the podcast episode, Annie and Dr. Hunt emphasize how incorporating student voice from an equity lens through their equity tool, Highlight, positively impacts school planning.

Tune into the episode now by listening below!   

Disclaimer: This podcast is not sponsored by any outside organizations and was recorded as part of a project for a program of study.

Do you need guidance generating a new strategic plan in today’s rapidly changing environment? Don’t worry, as Friday is launching more cohorts this fall!  Sign up here to stay informed. 

Know What You Need to Know to Start a New Charter School

Every year, new charter schools across the country are started by teachers, community leaders, and education advocates with a vision to make high-quality educational options available to all families. There are many things to consider on this journey for your new charter school, including the application process, student recruitment, facility acquisition, authorizer relations, and financing and funding.

We’ll walk you through key items to plan for on the road to opening your new charter school.

Support Programs & Fellowships

There are fellowship programs available that can support the process of founding a new charter school. While not required to be able to start a school, these programs are worth looking into as they provide key financial support and valuable training. The following are a few examples of fellowship programs offered across the country that prepare aspiring leaders to design, create, and lead high performing charter schools:

Building Excellent Schools Fellowship: Over a multi-year process, Fellows hone their school’s vision, develop their leadership skills, and train to found and lead an equitable, high-performing school that reflects the needs of their community.

Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (UnifiEd School Launch Program): DCSC’s UnifiED School Launch Fellowship recruits and prepares future school leaders of excellent, intentionally integrated, public charter schools.

Innovate Public Schools: The World-Class Schools Fellowship coaches and develops school leaders to design and run excellent and equitable schools in California.

Moonshot EdVentures: Surfaces and supports underrepresented leaders in developing new learning environment models of tomorrow in the Metro Denver area.

Charter School Application

The charter school application is the first step towards realizing your dream of establishing a start-up charter school, and it is like writing a business plan in that it includes your mission, growth projections, hiring practices, budget, as well as curriculum design and more. All states with charter school legislation require an application and have a unique approval process.

A common thread throughout your charter school application will be your mission, which is ultimately your reason for being. Your school’s mission statement should communicate what you aim to accomplish and how you plan to meet those goals, and everything outlined in your application should support its achievement.

For help with the application stage, your first step should be to reach out to your state’s charter school support organization as they often provide critical startup support and can connect you to financial and other experts as needed. Some organizations also run charter school startup workshop series (there is often an admissions process) to guide you through the process.

EdTec provides support with the charter school application and budget process.

Student Recruitment

The enrollment pipeline for your new charter school has substantial implications, as funding is based on a per-pupil basis. Creating and executing a recruitment plan and outreach strategy is hard work, especially without a proven track record or facilities.

A good recruitment plan focuses on meeting potential families where they are and effectively communicates why your school is the best option for their children. It is important to spend time getting to know families in your target community and establish strong relationships with them, as they will be your best advocates when it comes time for authorization.

In terms of timing, you will want to start the outreach process as early as possible to create awareness and be able to demonstrate an interest in your school to your authorizers.

Your plan should include tactics and communication activities for each stage in the recruiting funnel: interest, apply, enroll, attend. A best practice is to aim to over-enroll by 10-20% more students than needed. Some potential funnel building tactics and activities include:

  • Knocking on doors: You can involve others from your founding team along with supportive families and community members.
  • Hosting town hall meetings: Either in-person at a community center that is willing to share space, or virtually, which might make it more accessible for working parents. You could ask local neighborhood associations if they are willing to give you time on their meeting agendas so you can spread the word about your school.
  • Traditional media (newspaper, TV, local radio): Inquire if there are free or discounted placements available for nonprofit organizations.
  • Distribute fliers: Post these at grocery stores, churches, museums, and other frequently trafficked areas in your target community.
  • Social media: Facebook is a good place to start, and it is easy and cost-effective to start running ads that target families in relevant zip codes.
  • Newsletters: Keep interested families engaged and informed about what is happening with your new charter school by staying in touch and reminding them of key dates such as upcoming open enrollment deadlines.

Facilities

Charter school leaders across the nation have a challenge in finding suitable school buildings and facilities due to inequitable access and higher costs. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Access to school buildings is one of the biggest obstacles to expanding charter school choices.”

Finding a location that is suitable or adaptable for a conducive learning environment requires innovation, creativity, and flexibility. As a new charter school leader, your search for a facility should start with how much space you need.

How many students do you plan to have in Year 1? Do you want to grow into your original space, or is this just a starter space? Does your school require unique areas? These considerations will help to define your needs.

To find affordable space, look at ‘borrowing’ community resources that are already available or approach organizations that might be willing to donate or lease facilities. Your search might include office spaces and unused floors in public schools, churches, and university institutions.

Take into consideration that some of these spaces will need to be renovated to meet the requirements for education use.

It is also important to be aware of financing options for your new charter school facility. One opportunity within the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) funding area provides federal funding to help newly authorized charter schools find suitable facilities. The Charter School Facility Center at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools offers a snapshot of how states are enacting policies to help offset the cost of leasing, purchasing, and maintaining public charter school facilities; see the State Policy Snapshot: Facilities for Public Charter Schools to learn more about your potential funding options.

Staffing

Human Resources (HR) Management is a critical element in starting and operating a successful new charter school. Recruiting, onboarding, and engaging your founding staff using positive HR practices will encourage your team of dedicated teachers and staff to develop and thrive.

Your staffing plan should focus first on hiring your co-captains and main crew, which should include the head of school or principal, operations or office manager, and the lead subject or grade level teachers. Filling these positions with the right people is critical to the success of your school. As noted in The School Leader’s Toolbox: Teacher Recruitment and Selection put together by the New Teacher Project, “The first step to creating a high performing school is choosing the right team. An effective recruitment and selection process brings in strong teachers and sets expectations for a school’s unique culture.”

When hiring, timing is not always on your side, so it is vital to find a balance between in-depth vetting and efficiency. Here are a few recruiting and hiring tips for successful staffing before your first day of school for your new charter school:

  • Hire early: Provides the opportunity to see if they are a good fit.
  • Be strategic with onboarding: Engage new hires with regular touchpoints and share important information such as the charter document and literature on the school’s educational philosophy.
  • Do not neglect HR documents: Work with a legal team to develop a comprehensive employee handbook.
  • Develop well-written position descriptions: This will help to clearly define roles, make employees more productive on the job, and eliminate confusion down the road.

Explore the many resources and hiring portals that are available to help assist in your recruitment, such as local newspapers, specialty newspapers, local colleges, job fairs, school board associations, education job boards such as EdJoin and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Job Board, and your state association of charter schools.

Authorizer Relations

Authorizers determine who can start a new charter school, set academic and operational expectations, and oversee school performance (National Association of Charter School Authorizers). Because authorizers are responsible for ensuring schools operate in accordance with their charter, they can also make the decision to close a charter school for poor performance.

Creating an authentic and transparent relationship with your authorizer from the start will help you down the road. Before you open your school doors, it is important to work with your authorizer to understand processes, expectations, and deadlines. Keep in mind that the job of the authorizer does not stop at approval, and neither should your relationship with them.

Here are a few tips to help you establish a good relationship with your authorizer:

  • Be collaborative: Your success is their success and vice versa.
  • Make friends: You both share a common goal of improving the quality of public education.
  • Get a healthy start: First impressions make lasting impressions.
  • Stay up to date: Develop working norms around compliance and reporting.
  • Keep in touch: Maintain consistent communication.

Finances

The financial health of your start-up charter school can ultimately determine your school’s viability. Your new charter school is subject to the same financial audit procedures, requirements, and reports as traditional district schools, and often more. Most charter schools that fail are forced to close for non-academic reasons, most often because of financial difficulties (Center for Education Reform).

Budgeting & Fundraising

Your budget should support the mission and vision of your new charter school by appropriately allocating resources to meet the goals outlined in your charter.

Begin your budget planning process with enrollment in mind. While it is best to aim high and push for a healthy waitlist during recruitment, you’ll want to be realistic with your budget’s enrollment projections as they are used to calculate projected revenue. Your budget should consider all potential costs while cultivating a culture of frugality when it comes to spending, especially in Year 0 to conserve as much as possible for your first few years in operation.

An excellent tool to use is the Cost Estimation Tool developed by the National Charter Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance, which helps start-up charter school operators to identify the underlying cost assumptions and use those assumptions to estimate operating costs.

Raising funds for your new charter school can be a challenge since it is hard to gain access to bank loans without a track record. However, there are other funding options to explore. As mentioned above, the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) provides funding to support newly authorized charter schools, provided your SEA hasn’t already received CSP funding in the fiscal year in question. Other options include grants from local and national foundations, private individuals, and the local business community.

EdTec’s grant writing experts have a proven track record with the CSP grant as well as foundation grants.

Overall, surround yourself with a passionate team that is committed to your mission, and stay laser-focused on the goals you set out to accomplish. If you don’t have expertise in a certain area, know your limitations, and seek help to complement your strengths from charter support organizations, special programs, and service providers.

Starting a charter school has never been easy, but the impact on the future of education is well worth it.

From Crisis Management to Strategic Planning: A Four-Step Framework (Part II): Insights & Exercises

(Part Two of a Two-Part Series)

By Guest Blogger Annie Crangle, Partner, Friday

October 2020

Four months ago, as the Friday team prepared to spend the summer taking school leaders through a strategic-planning bootcamp, the following questions were top of mind:

  • Will a short-term crisis turn into an everyday reality? 
  • Can long term-strategic planning be valuable in a crisis? 
  • Could a pandemic actually present a unique opportunity to innovate? 
  • Will the level of overwhelmedness and uncertainty decrease for school leaders, students, and families?

After helping 15 school leaders develop strong reopening plans grounded in a long-term strategic vision, we have more clarity on these questions, as well as some guidance and resources for schools in need of support.

Unfortunately, the crisis has turned into our everyday reality as many school leaders returned to school by extending their distance-learning model. And school staff, parents, and kids are exhausted from the continuous scramble. On the flipside, strategic planning has proven its worth in times of crisis, revealing “lightbulb moments” and helping leaders get a clearer understanding of their ultimate goals.

The connection between short-term planning and long-term planning is now clear in my mind—and becoming more clear in our strategic plan. Now, when I think about reopening our school, I have a much better sense of both the forest and the trees.” —Stacy Emory, Executive Director, San Carlos Charter Learning Center

Before we share more about our process and provide you with tools to start your own planning, here are some takeaways from our summer cohort:

  • Long-term planning provides short-term motivation: Leaders were able to get out of survival mode by establishing a vision for what’s possible on the other side of the crisis. Leaders’ confidence was restored by connecting short-term decisions to long-term solutions, and leaders felt empowered to seize the opportunity presented by the crisis to not only respond, but adapt and re-invent. 
  • A design thinking approach to strategic planning provides structure and flexibility: With frameworks for continuous evaluation, leaders were encouraged to reflect on past circumstances and plan for the future. For example: What did we need before that we don’t need now? What do we need now that we never needed before? What do we have that we can re-purpose in new ways? 
  • School leaders need a space where they can be vulnerable about failures, open with questions, and generous with resources: During and after the cohort, school leaders reported lower levels of anxiety, a high degree of learning, and access to a wealth of new resources and knowledge.  
  • Engaging staff in strategic planning exercises enriches the process and outcomes: After modeling strategic-planning exercises with the leadership group, we discussed how they might adapt these exercises to engage their staff. Many reported repeating the exercises with staff, and those diverse viewpoints strengthened their planning even more. 
  • Strategic planning is a meaningful way to train new leaders: Schools participated in teams of 3-4, some of whom were newly appointed vice principals early in their leadership career. At the end of the cohort experience, these new leaders reported greater awareness of the skills and responsibilities of school leadership and they felt more equipped to step into the role.
  • It’s possible to build relationships and community virtually: Our entire process was facilitated in a virtual environment—through the use of breakout rooms, virtual whiteboards, and play, we were able to collaborate and communicate effectively and build enduring relationships. Our summer cohort requested 3-, 6-, and 12-month check-ins to stay updated on each other’s progress.

As noted in our last post, our process was structured around a four-question framework. For inspiration, here are some sample insights that our cohort participants reported at each phase of the process. And for guidance, we’ve also included some of the tools we developed to help you guide your own strategic planning exercises:

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. 

We asked school participants to complete a PEST Analysis: a summary of opportunities and threats due to Political, Economic, Social, and Technological forces.

We then asked schools to assess how their organization is equipped to respond to these changes by completing a SWOT Analysis: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our program (S&W)? How are we positioned to capitalize on opportunities (O)? How can we mitigate threats (T)? Lastly, we asked schools to put it all together: Based on our external analysis (PEST) and our internal assessment of our organization’s readiness to respond (SWOT), identify our top five strategic priorities.

Through the exercises, one school identified the challenge of redirecting parent volunteers while campus was closed. The school team established a strategic priority to revamp family and community engagement, ultimately developing a system for parents to teach enrichment classes via Zoom.

Another school reflected on their community’s differing views on social justice issues in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests. Leaders identified the need to create and implement (in whatever medium) an engaging and effective curriculum aligned with a learner-centered approach, through the lens of social justice and critical consciousness.

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

We guided school leaders through the essential shifts in developing a new academic plan, illustrating how to: be responsive to students’ changing academic and social-emotional needs; support clear communication and progress monitoring; maintain a commitment to the school’s instructional philosophy and approach; and adhere to new compliance requirements.

“Circumstances may be changing, your process may be changing, but your vision remains the same.” —Jennifer Reyes, EdTec, Guest Facilitator 

Through these exercises, one leader recognized the importance of keeping grade-level learning top of mind, adopting a “high expectations and high support” approach. Another school team reiterated that students craved feedback, so they decided to use formative assessments, hoping students would be motivated by seeing their own progress.

Second, based on their new academic plans, we walked school leaders through three steps to understand the operational and financial implications, asking them:

  • What new people, materials, resources are needed?
  • What existing people, materials, resources can be leveraged in new ways or redirected? 
  • What existing people, materials, resources, can be eliminated or reduced?

“The program drives the budget.” —Dena Koren, EdTec, Guest Facilitator  

School leaders saw opportunities to redirect robust professional developments budget to technology needs. Existing resources such as noise-canceling headphones used in Special Education classes were made available for students to check-out for home use. Another team decided to leverage classroom instructional aides to assist with implementing new health and safety protocols.

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.

We asked school teams to reflect on five design-thinking questions to ensure each organization not only responds, but adapts, and reinvents through this period of change. (Many leaders repeated this exercise with staff using a virtual whiteboard—something we recommend for every school.)

One school team recognized that moving to a distance model has given them the opportunity to re-envision some foundational instructional approaches.

During week 6 of the 8-week process, we helped leaders collect their planning efforts into a 2020-2023 Strategic Plan Framework, with a focus on what makes their school unique, three-year core goals, key strategies, and vision for success.

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

Communication is foundational to effective change management. We helped school leaders to engage in a stakeholder-mapping exercise to generate communications strategies and tactics that emerged from the following questions:

  • What is our compelling vision for each stakeholder group? How is that message communicated and reinforced? 
  • Where are people now, and where do we want them to be? 
  • What are the range of perspectives in each stakeholder group? 
  • What initial and ongoing communication is needed to support desired changes?

“Put yourself in the mindset of the stakeholder, what’s the first question a teacher is going to ask when you announce a new change?” —Elise Randall Hill, Rocketship Public Schools, Guest Facilitator 

One school team decided to establish weekly one-on-one check-ins with teachers who were struggling with distance learning, as well as more frequent all-staff meetings for greater communication, camaraderie, and support.

It was a whirlwind eight weeks, but we agree with the school leader who commented at the end of our final session, “Can we start again from the top next week?”


We hope these resources and insights are helpful. And if you need more help to generate a new strategic plan in the midst of this constantly changing landscape, call us. Friday is launching more cohorts this fall, and we invite you to join us.

Four Ways School Leaders Can Promote Equity-Driven Distance Learning

September 4, 2020

Equity is a driving force for charter schools in their quest to provide high-quality education options for all students, regardless of zip code. The COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have created new challenges in this quest. As we learned this past spring, low-income students are at a greater disadvantage due to disparities in access to infrastructure needed for distance learning. Many schools across the country are starting the new year with either distance or hybrid learning, putting pressure on school leaders to determine how their school will continue to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students and families.

We’ve been following what charter schools are doing in this area and put together a list of suggestions for how school leaders can practice equity-based distance learning in the upcoming school year.

1. Check-in on Students and Families to Ensure Needs are Being Met

The students who are most in need are less likely to have access to a conducive learning environment, technological devices, internet connectivity, and parental supervision. Schools can play a role in helping to connect families to organizations that provide access to technological devices and internet service for reduced or no cost. You might want to check your state department of education’s website for a list of local companies providing discounts. For example, the California Department of Education shares information about special offers by various internet providers across the state. Common Sense Education also shares information about organizations helping to facilitate access to low-cost and free internet service, devices, and educational content.

Schools can also provide families with information about community organizations that can help to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and childcare. For example, schools can create a list of community resources with instructions on how to initiate contact and make the list easily accessible to all families by sharing it in newsletters and posting it on their website. Alpha Public Schools created a microsite Alpha Family Resources Hub to provide families with information about resources related to distance learning, housing, food, and more.

2. Prioritize Staying Connected with Students to Support Academic Success and Mental Wellness

During distance learning, regular live interaction between teachers and students is important to maintain connection and encourage stronger learning outcomes School leaders are tasked with overseeing the quality of communication between students and teachers while ensuring check-ins are done regularly with different modes of communication such as text, phone, video, small groups, and social media. Maintaining a consistent, open, two-way communication between your school and students and families will allow insight into how students are adjusting to the new learning environment and coping with other issues.

School leaders can create a space for informal and formal conversations with students by implementing virtual advisory groups or individual online meetings. For example, Memphis Merit Academy created a hotline for parents and students to call for help with schoolwork, LifeWork Hotline | Virtual Teacher, to support students’ academic success. A similar model could work to connect students to counselors to support students’ mental health and wellbeing and help students cope with the stresses brought about by the pandemic. School leaders may also call upon social and mental health services by directing families to their teletherapy services while emphasizing mindfulness, playtime, and exercise to help parents and guardians structure time at home.

3. Provide Flexibility That is Responsive to Students’ Unique Needs and Abilities

It’s important to consider students’ unique needs and experiences when planning your school’s distance learning strategy for the 2020-2021 school year. School leaders might consider distributing surveys that solicit student and family feedback on digital learning experiences as well as their home environments. This feedback will make you aware of any barriers to learning such as access to technology, home language, caretaking responsibilities and/or the presence of caregivers, and can help to inform your distance learning strategy and tailor your approach to serve different groups of students. For example, the survey results can help to identify which students have familial obligations during the day and need access to asynchronous instruction, as well as those who require synchronous instruction to keep them engaged and on track.

A survey can also help improve family and student engagement. For example, at the start of distance learning and after noticing that only a few students were engaged in daily learning, Rocketship Public Schools surveyed their families each morning to inquire what students needed to learn at home and worked to address those needs throughout the day. By the end of the school year, nearly every student was engaging in daily learning.

4. Focus on Mitigating Learning Loss

A recent study by NWEA predicts that students will experience a learning loss of 30 percent in reading and 50 percent in math due to school closures related to the COVID-19 crisis. To help mitigate potential learning loss, school leaders can focus on strategies that accelerate student learning. Accelerated learning strategies require that students consistently receive grade-level materials, tasks, and assignments while making the work accessible. This Learning Acceleration Guide might be a helpful starting point for planning your strategy. To make up for the learning loss, the accelerated student learning plan should start as soon as possible, and ideally should be put together by a diverse team of teachers, administrators, and school leaders in a series of planning sessions. It is helpful to plan several instructional delivery scenarios and have a high-level plan for each scenario. You’ll also want to identify what unfinished learning needs to be addressed, and when and how. This document from Achieve the Core helps educators identify instructional content priorities in math and ELA in order to stay on grade level while addressing related prerequisite skills.


School leaders across the country are tasked with the challenge of developing strategies that maximize equity outcomes and address the diverse needs of their students during this unprecedented time of school closures. Equity-based distance learning helps to ensure that the most vulnerable students are supported during and beyond the pandemic. The resources cited here can help school leaders to implement school policies and processes that support equitable learning outcomes, as well as to train teachers to diagnose unfinished learning while providing acceleration support to the students most in need. What is your school doing to achieve equity in distance learning? Let us know in the comment section below!

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.