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

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

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.

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?”

Why Now is the Best Time to Revise Your LCAP for Next Year!

by Jennifer Reyes, Ed.D., Educational Support Services Manager

October 2, 2018

California charter schools, think back to your experience updating your 17-18 LCAP.  Did you feel overwhelmed by too many goals and metrics?  Outdated actions and services?  Unclear budgeted expenditures?  Lack of available data for any of the sections?  If you experienced any of these frustrations, now is a great time to work on revising your 19-20 LCAP.

Why now? 

A central tenet of the Local Control Funding Formula is the engagement of all stakeholders in the process of updating and revising a school or district’s LCAP.  Starting the process now allows you time to bring the needs to your advisory bodies, Board, staff, parents, and secondary students.  If you work on the LCAP now you can engage your school site council in understanding the LCAP and develop proposed changes. Then you can bring it to the school community for input all in time for a smooth update next spring.

By contrast, schools that rush through changes in the spring may find there is no time to consider all relevant data and develop a plan that has full support and staying power.

What to do?

Here are some examples of changes schools can make to increase the relevance of the LCAP and improve the process:

  • Organize your metrics under a few (3-5) powerful goals that all stakeholders can articulate.
  • Set up your financials according to LCFF guidelines for base, supplemental, and concentration funds.
  • Update your actions and services to convey your school’s current initiatives.

A fall or winter revision also frees up the time you need to focus your spring efforts on the 18-19 LCAP Update that is due July 1. You will need to collect and analyze data from the current academic year during this time.  The LCAP process provides greater flexibility to LEAs to plan and measure their success, but at the same time demands a new level of organization, involvement, and transparency.  If your LCAP could use some improvement, there is no time like the present to get started!

If you have any questions about your LCAP or LCAP Support Services, feel free to reach out to Jennifer by filling out this form and she will get back to you.

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.

Organizational Design for Charter Schools: A Case Study

By Christina L Greenberg, Co-Founder & Partner, Edgility Consulting

May 16, 2018

“”Every company has two organizational structures: The formal one is written on the charts; the other is the everyday relationship of the men and women in the organization.”  – Harold Geneen

Among all the things I have learned working with schools over the past fifteen years, perhaps the most important lesson is that each school community is a distinct organism with a culture, traditions, and character all its own. This does not mean that best practices from a particular school cannot be leveraged or applied at another, but it does mean that we need to be sensitive to the site context and culture when making recommendations. This is especially true if the best practices we are considering require change on the part of current employees and/or the functional division of labor and organizational structures in which they sit.

One of the areas where I think schools have the most to learn from other organizations is in their talent management practices. And one of the core talent management practices that many growing school organizations ignore at their peril is the imperative to create a clear and appropriate organizational design, reporting structure, and job responsibilities along with a transparent salary schedule that is evidence-based and reflective of broader market trends.

Case Study 

About 18 months ago I was brought in by a small but growing charter school organization to help them evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of their non-teaching staff roles, responsibilities, and reporting structure. The principal and many of the staff had started there when it was a brand new, stand-alone school six years before. Based on parent demand and its academic success, the school decided to expand the grade levels they served, creating an elementary and middle school program.

In planning for this change, school leaders had spent time developing and implementing a model for the increased educator capacity they would need including demand for new classroom teachers, specialists, and other instructional staff. They had modeled the facilities needs that would result from an increase in enrollment and ensured that their student enrollment and thus budget revenues would cover these updates. Finally, they hired one new school leader and promoted others so they would have adequate instructional leadership for their expanded grade levels. In short, they did all the things that most schools in their situation would do in preparing for an expansion or replication of an existing academic program.

The one thing they didn’t plan for, though, was the need to update their projections and expectations for leaders and staff who did not sit squarely on the academic side of the house. They still had one single office where all non-teaching staff worked, with an open reception area and a few offices along the perimeter for more senior staff. The Director of HR, Data Analyst, and other admin team members would regularly get pulled into conversations with parents around school routines or student health and discipline matters even though there were dedicated receptionist/assistant staff that should have been managing those types of issues and inquiries.

In addition to the lack of physical separation between what we would typically consider “central office” staff and those dedicated to school site activities, there was a lack of clarity regarding who reported to whom and who was in charge of which functions. All of the clerical/admin staff felt overworked, in large part because they each felt they were supposed to be involved in everything but did not understand who had ultimate accountability for most core activities. Small matters like preparing flyers and ordering food for events took on outsized importance as the office lacked clear systems for ownership of even low level tasks. And finally, job descriptions were nonexistent or out of date while salaries were inconsistent – some employees seemed to be paid outside the market range (either too low or too high) without a clear rationale.

Areas of Concern

This school approached our firm to help them sort out these challenges and come to resolution on these key questions:

  • What is the difference between school site and central office staff and how do we delineate between these folks in their titles, duties, reporting structure, and where they physically work in the building?
  • How do we adjust our previous org chart, reporting structure and roles/responsibilities for staff as our school organization expands? Once we develop the ideal org chart for our team, how do we evaluate the skills and interests of our current team to discern which roles are appropriate for whom? And finally, what do we do if we don’t see a match between someone’s skills and interests with one of our new positions?
  • How do we start to identify inefficient practices and workflows on the non-instructional side of the house and how do we communicate these areas for growth to the rest of the team without people feeling personally challenged or that their work (and thus their job) is threatened long-term?

Project Outcomes

Before jumping to recommendations, we started by first examining what staff members were currently doing in their jobs in the hopes of then being able to pinpoint areas of inefficiency or where too few resources were being allocated to ensure staff success. We asked the school’s HR lead to require employees to track their time over a one month period, i.e. listing the tasks they worked on, category of work those tasks fell under (i.e. admin work, data analysis, parent communication, etc.) and duration of each activity. In addition, we scheduled one-on-one interviews with every admin team member, from receptionists to directors and senior school leaders. With each, we discussed what they saw as their core responsibilities, what challenges they faced in completing those tasks, and what they liked best and felt most confident in within their current duties.

Once we had a sense of the current state of the organization, we then turned our attention to best practices research to design the ideal for: how responsibilities should break down in terms of teams and individuals; how to ensure functional areas are covered in an efficient way; and a reporting structure that maximized current staff talents and future needs. We gathered sample org charts from a dozen similar sized charter school organizations as well as interviewed several talent leads and administrators at those schools to find out their answers to some of the questions above.

Both of these steps – diagnosing the current state and looking at how others have solved similar problems – led us and the school leadership team to realize they needed a much clearer line between staff who were primarily responsible to a specific school site and those whose purview was broader, requiring them to be more separate from the school both physically and in terms of job accountability. The leadership team decided to put up physical barriers between the school reception desk and the office space dedicated to admin who worked on HR, accounting, and data so they could have a quiet space and sustained, uninterrupted time to work.

We also realized that having a corps of admin generalists did not serve anyone’s interests well, and thus managers needed to be much more specific about what each person needed to manage and to whom they reported. This meant that some folks had to give up responsibility for things they were used to being a part of while others had to change who they reported to and thus adjust to a new manager. At the same time, it also meant each job was more specific and narrowly tailored to a common set of responsibilities, and targeted a similar range of competencies that better match skills and abilities that tend to go together (i.e. external facing interactions with community members vs. detail oriented, paper-based tasks).

With a new org chart, coherent job descriptions, and evidence-based salary schedules in hand, senior leaders decided to open up these positions to the public for the first time in years. Managers met individually with staff who could be affected to talk through the reorganization plans and share new job titles and responsibilities. Current staff were invited to apply for any of the roles and were given priority for interviewing. In the end, most people were able to stay, either in a very similar role or by shifting to a new, more defined job title and set of responsibilities. One person did end up leaving because there was not a role that fit her expectations. (In this case, the organization honored her service by giving her time to search for a new job and providing her with positive references.)

When we checked in one year later, school leaders were feeling much better about how the office runs. They appreciated the benefits of tightening up on accountability and reporting structures, and observed a large boost in employee morale as a result of improved role definition and focus.

What We Learned

In this project, we were reminded that although it can be tough to tackle reorganization head-on, not acting and just hoping things will work out can be a much worse outcome for everyone involved. By starting with gathering and analyzing data about the current state of affairs, collecting artifacts and examples around best practices, and then using both of those – as well as your own intuition and understanding of your organizational culture – to craft a new org design (including roles, responsibilities, and clarity around lines of accountability), you can dramatically improve office efficiency and morale, thus better serving your instructional team and – most importantly – your students, in the process.

About the Author

Christina L Greenberg is Co-Founder and Partner of Edgility Consulting, a leading executive search and talent management firm serving schools and nonprofits in the education space. Her practice has a particular focus on the talent needs of small- to mid-sized charter school organizations. Christina is originally from the Bay Area, lived in LA for almost a decade, and for the last 14 years has lived with her family in Oakland, CA. She is a long-time board member of Lighthouse Community Public Schools, a charter network with two schools serving grades K-12 in East Oakland.

Strategic Planning for Charter Schools: A 101 Guide

By Guest Blogger Jonathan Kaufman, Co-Founder & Principal of  Third Plateau

One of the biggest missed opportunities we see among charter schools is operating without a strategic plan in place. LCAPs and charter renewals are necessary and useful, but they are far from a substitute for a strong strategic plan. For most school leaders, that then begs the question, “Okay, but what is a strategic plan and how do I get one?”  

A strategic plan is a document that sets a bold vision for what an organization wants to accomplish and outlines the path to make that vision a reality. Unlike LCAPS and renewals, strategic plans are internal documents, meaning they are never audited by an authorizer or the state. This means that a school can be aspirational and audacious in its thinking and planning, and include goals that it could never risk including in a compliance-focused LCAP or renewal. By giving your stakeholders the freedom to dream big without compliance restrictions, you’re helping to push the school to higher levels and reminding everyone why the school exists in the first place. Simply put: strategic plans allow school leaders to be far more authentic regarding what they care about and why, truly rallying their teachers, boards, students, families, and community around a bold vision and purpose.  

Even more important than the document itself, the strategic planning process is exceptionally valuable. A successful strategic planning process takes about six months and does four things: 

  • Takes an honest look at what’s going well and what’s not. This means asking tough questions and giving honest answers. For example, if your four-year college attendance rate hasn’t shown improvement over the last few years, avoid excuses and identify the root causes. Perhaps more supports are needed for students struggling with certain subject areas required for admittance into four-year colleges. 
  • Solicits candid input and feedback from supporters and detractors. There are bound to be uncomfortable discussions, but it’s better to address those head on than to pretend the underlying issues don’t exist. 
  • Enlists a wide range of stakeholders to co-create the plan. Create a strategic planning task force and make sure to invite representatives from all stakeholder groups, including teachers, staff, board members, students, parents, and community members.
  • Empowers a school and community to take ownership over the future they are trying to build. It’s easier to generate buy-in for your strategic plan when there are genuine efforts to identify opportunities for improvement, and when all groups are represented and informed.  

Great schools are driven by great strategic plans. So what are you waiting for?  

Tax Season Is Coming…Get the 411 on 1099s!

By Jacqui Runholt, AP & Business Process Specialist

November 29, 2017

You may not be a tax expert, but if you work with vendors that provide services to your charter school, you’ll need to know the basics about 1099s. A 1099 Form is used to report income from self-employment earnings, as well as interest, dividends, and other earnings, and you’ll need to submit these forms to eligible vendors and to the IRS. We’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind leading up to tax season:

  • Any vendor that is paid to provide services to your school could be eligible to pay taxes on 1099 income. As a best practice, get in the habit of requesting W-9’s from all your vendors when you start working with them, so you have the information you need to issue 1099s when the time comes.
  • Start reviewing your vendor list now so you’re not scrambling to meet the January 31 deadline!
  • If your charter school leases its facilities, the rent expenses may be reported on a 1099 Form.
  • If you’re not sure if you need to submit a 1099 for a certain vendor, just go ahead and submit it. The IRS will know whether a vendor is eligible. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The due date for submitting 1099s to vendors and to the IRS is January 31st, but don’t wait until then. If you’re done at the beginning of January, submit! Corrections can be made through the end of March.