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

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

August 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALPADS Update for CA Charter Schools

By Gerald Cockrell, Data and Categorical Program Specialist

September 19, 2018

For California charter schools, it can be hard to stay on top of all the changes to CALPADS. Use the list below as an easy checklist to make sure your school isn’t forgetting anything this year. Check out our previous CALPADS post to see our list of the most important CALPADS reports to prepare for Fall 1.

Important Changes to CALPADS for the 18/19 School Year

  • There are new CALPADS submission certification deadlines for ‘18-‘19 and they are much earlier than previous years. Please plan accordingly, especially for the Fall 1 submission which now ends around Thanksgiving instead of the end of January.
    • Fall 1 Certification Deadline: 11/21/18
    • Fall 1 Amendment Window Deadline: 12/7/18
    • Fall 2 Certification Deadline: 2/1/19 (No Amendment Window)
    • EOY 1 – EOY 3 Certification Deadline: 8/17/19 (No Amendment Window)
  • In addition to the shorter submission windows CALPADS also has a significant outage planned for 9/21-10/01 to make major system changes. Please plan accordingly. It’s also important to get any SSID’s or other information from CALPADS you may need for assessment or ELPAC testing.
  • New students with a non-English primary language must have an ‘18-‘19 enrollment record and a “TBD” SELA record in CALPADS in order for them to show up in TOMS and be tested with the Initial ELPAC.
  • This update is not new, but it is important enough to warrant an annual reminder: all National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) applications for the year MUST BE RECEIVED BY 10/31/18 for the student eligibility to count towards your official FRPM or LCFF Unduplicated counts.

To help you prepare for Fall 1 and make sure your charter school’s data is accurate for funding and accountability, check out our previous CALPADS post about the most important CALPADS reports.

We Need Proof: Capture & Demonstrate Student Performance across a Data Spectrum

by Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data and Analysis 

May 23, 2018

With so much going on at your charter school on a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult to remember what data your staff needs to track throughout the year. This data is necessary to stay on top of accountability requirements and be able to demonstrate student performance to your stakeholders, as well as for your LCAP, charter renewal, WASC, and grants. This article takes a step-by-step approach to help you evaluate your data needs and establish processes for collecting that data.

Start with your Charter

When your school’s founding team wrote the charter, they laid the foundation for what the school aims to accomplish, student performance goals, and how it plans to measure its progress over the duration of the charter period. Because your LCAP is an annual reflection of the school’s performance and plan for improvement, aligning the goals and measurable pupil outcomes in your LCAP to your charter is critical. This will also save you time when you renew your charter, as aligning the two documents is a requirement for renewal.

As a next step, you’ll need to track progress towards the measurable outcomes you set in your LCAP. For example, if one of your student performance goals is that all students enrolled at your school since ninth grade will graduate and be accepted to college, then you need to have processes in place to track progress towards graduation requirements and college acceptance rates. To accomplish this, you could assign a member of your data team to collaborate with the school’s guidance counselors and college counselors to determine the best way to gather this information. If one of your metrics for academic achievement is that all students enrolled at your school since kindergarten will be reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, then you need to have processes in place to track reading levels for a cohort of students over time.

Data Integrity

You won’t be able to evaluate your progress and student performance toward LCAP goals and tell your school’s story without consistent, reliable data. What’s more, your CALPADS data will be used to calculate the CA School Dashboard state indicators, so it’s extremely important that it’s complete and accurate. Review all CALPADS certification reports carefully. Take the time to download all student-level state test results from TOMS, CELDT, ELPAC, and testing systems to a safe place at your school. The data may not always be available to download when you need it; for example, TOMS only houses two historical years of data.

For all local test data, make sure to include student IDs so you can calculate longitudinal progress. Include proficiency levels where applicable to make it easy to determine the percentage of students on grade level or meeting the standard. Make sure the team in charge of data at your school is aware of the important role they play in compliance requirements and storytelling, and work with them to establish standard processes for tracking and reporting all data. You’ll want to make sure that everyone involved in these processes is kept informed of critical updates and timelines.

Use Data to Tell Your Story

CA School Dashboard Indicators

When it comes time to tell your story, it’s important to present the school’s performance in a clear, honest, effective way. In addition to the good news, you’ll also need to communicate dips in performance and indications of achievement gaps. You can use your Dashboard indicators to identify achievement gaps by identifying any student groups performing two or more levels below the school’s overall performance. You should also be prepared to explain how you are using data to assist in improving performance or closing the achievement gap.

Your Dashboard indicators are also useful for identifying and highlighting progress in student performance, such as an improvement in the test performance of English Learners. Whenever possible, try to identify specific programs or lack of programs that can be tied to progress or setbacks; this will weave a thorough story and set the stage for you to provide related recommendations about the best way to allocate resources going forward.

Local Metrics

You can also use local metrics to highlight your school’s performance. If you’ve had success in a particular area, you’ll want to make sure to share this with your stakeholders. Here are a few examples of metrics that might make sense for your school to track and report:

  • College Application, Acceptance, or College-Going Rate
  • AP Course Enrollment or AP Pass Rate
  • GPA
  • Participation in Programs (extracurricular activities, arts & science programs, leadership)
  • SAT/ACT Scores
  • Fundraising Success
  • Community Service Hours
  • Re-Enrollment Rate or Waitlist Count (to indicate satisfaction with or interest in your school)
  • Results of Parent/Student Surveys

Performance Analysis

There are two main ways to demonstrate student performance when telling your school’s story: longitudinal progress and comparison view. The longitudinal view compares performance for the same set of students over time. The comparison view shows school-wide performance by grade level or subgroup compared to demographically similar, resident, or district schools. When comparing performance, be sure to select comparison schools based on specific criteria such as similar demographics or geographic proximity. In the end, it all goes back to data integrity, as both views depend on access to complete, accurate data.

Summary

The most effective way to prepare to demonstrate student performance at your school is to outline a data collection strategy and plan. Make sure the relevant staff are on the same page regarding your school’s goals and implementation of those goals, so you are capturing the information you need to tell a powerful story. Schedule time throughout the school year to review progress on the measures established in your LCAP, accurately maintain your CALPADS data, and thoroughly understand your Dashboard. All of this will prepare you to explain both the progress and struggles reflected in your data.

Find out more about EdTec’s Student Performance Services.

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.

EdTec Opens Atlanta Office and Expands Work with Georgia Charters

November 20, 2017

EdTec is proud to announce the opening of our Atlanta office! We’re especially excited to be co-locating with our partner, the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA), which allows us to collaborate with a dedicated, passionate team and stay abreast of new developments in Georgia’s education landscape.  

There is a lot of momentum surrounding the charter school movement in Georgia. With so much growth in the region, there is an increasing need for high-quality schools. Enrollment in charter schools in Georgia has more than tripled over the last decade, exceeding 84,000 students in the 2016-17 school year (Georgia Department of Education). EdTec is eager to contribute to this growth by sharing our knowledge and expertise and expanding our impact in the state. 

EdTec currently works with four charters in Georgia, throughout the metro Atlanta area, Macon, and Savannah. We provide these schools with full back-office support, which means we provide a CFO-level resource and a team of specialists to perform payroll, accounts payable, and accounting functions, as well as to support financial reporting and compliance requirements, enabling school leaders to focus on academic excellence. We also supported a few of these schools throughout the charter development stage by creating their charter application budgets, identifying sources of funding, and helping with the chartering process.  

As part of our partnership with the GCSA, EdTec provides critical support to aspiring school leaders who participate in GCSA’s charter school incubator. Our staff works together with applicants to create their school budgets, and, when necessary, develops multiple iterations of school budgets for district and state applications.  

We look forward to continuing our work with the GCSA and supporting the growth of high-quality charter schools in Georgia!  

Keep Calm and Review Your CALPADS Reports!

By Gerald Cockrell, Data and Categorical Program Specialist

November 13, 2017

Given the large amount of data reported for CALPADS Fall I, and the multitude of certification reports available, it can be difficult to determine which data are the most important and where to find them!  To help ease the frustration, we’ve created a list of the most important reports and included detail about the information each report contains and who should be reviewing them.

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There are many other reports available as well, but starting with the ones listed in this table will provide a clear view of the data that affect your funding and accountability.  As a reminder, special attention should be paid to FRPM data, EL data, and high school graduate data.

If you have any concerns about the data being reported for Fall I, feel free to reach out to EdTec’s data team to discuss how we can help. You can reach Gerald at gerald.cockrell@edtec.com, or 213.292. 6620 x414.

EdTec’s Going to CSDC 2017!

October 13, 2017

EdTec will be attending the 2017 Charter Schools Development Center Conference as a sponsor, exhibitor, and presenter! The conference takes place November 16-17 in San Diego at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. We’ll be at Booth #54 at the Exhibitor Fair, so be sure to stop by and say hello to our staff!

We’re also excited to share that EdTec staff will present two sessions at the conference. The first session is designed for school leaders thinking about expansion or replication. We invite you to attend “Successful Charter School Expansion and Growth” on Friday, November 17 from 1:30pm – 2:45pm in room Gaslamp A, with Chang Patel, Senior Client Manager at EdTec, and Alison Suffet-Diaz, Founder and Executive Director of Environmental Charter Schools. Attendees will learn best practices from charter schools that have achieved successful expansion and growth, and will walk away with an understanding of important issues to consider in the decision making process, such as funding, facilities, talent recruitment, the pros and cons of various charter management organization (CMO) models, replication vs. expansion, and more.

Later on Friday, school leaders will have an opportunity to learn how to best prepare for their upcoming audits at our second session, “Prepare For Your Audit”, presented by Amita Parikh, Client Manager at EdTec, along with James Rotherham of Squar Milner, at 3:00pm – 4:15pm in room Gaslamp B. The presenters will offer expert advice on implementing fiscal policies, understanding various requests, and interacting with auditors.

We look forward to a productive two days of learning with California’s talented charter school leaders. Remember to stop by Booth #54 and say hello!

Grow Your Enrollment Applications With School Tours 

Use tours as a marketing tool to reach prospective families and tell your school’s story.

by Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

July 10, 2017

You’ve gone through all the hard work of starting a charter school.  Your programs are successful and your students are doing well. But you’re still struggling to meet your target enrollment numbers each year.  Success on its own will not automatically generate a waiting list; you must arm prospective parents with information about why your school is a strong educational option for their children.  Because while school choice provides the opportunity for your school to exist in the first place, it also creates competition.

Tweet: Most charter schools don’t have a large marketing budget, but there’s a lot you can do that doesn’t cost much at all. Start by offering tours of your school. Advertise these tours on social media and at local community events. Get in touch with the local homeowners’ association or chamber of commerce, and ask if you can speak for a few minutes at the next meeting. Talk about your school’s mission and how you serve local families, highlight recent achievements, and invite community members to take a tour of the school and/or pass along the message to those with school-aged children.  Reach out to local churches, community centers, and businesses, and ask if you can post flyers on their bulletin boards.  Make sure to include the tour schedule along with your school’s website, phone number, and social media information so that those who wish to contact you about tours are able to do so.

It’s important to get the tour logistics right. Aim to schedule tours at times that are convenient for working parents, such as early in the morning or during lunch hours.  Make sure to keep the tours under an hour (you can always assign staff to stay later and talk to families who aren’t in a rush). If you’re not sure when to schedule the tours, ask a few parents of current students for their input. Maybe evenings and/or weekends work best for your community.  In that case, you might not be able to implement all of the suggestions below, but at least you’ll have a captive audience.

It’s helpful to capture visitors’ contact information so you can stay in touch and monitor interest in your school across time. Create a simple sign-in sheet – the data gathering is easier if this is done on a tablet or computer – that includes the  parent’s name and email address, and the prospective student’s current school (if applicable), and ask visitors to sign in when they arrive for the tour. Knowing where prospective students are coming from will help you to target future communications efforts, and having a database of email addresses of interested families makes it easier to keep telling your school’s story after the tour. If your school sends  newsletters to current parents, include your new contacts in future newsletters to keep them informed of all the great things happening at your school.

Start a cohort of student ambassadors who, along with school staff, will participate in the tours and talk about their experiences. This is especially valuable at the high school level, as parents tend to bring their children on the tours, and they often have questions that only current students can answer.  Inviting parent volunteers to participate in the tours is also beneficial, as they can speak to why your school is a good fit for their families.

It is helpful for the tours to be led by an administrator and a teacher, as both offer valuable perspectives and can answer different questions about the school, its programs, and policies and procedures.  If possible, divide the visit into a school overview (complete with a short question and answer session), and a walking tour. During the presentation, remember to highlight what makes your school unique, including interesting programs and classes, innovative learning methods, and awards and achievements. Invite the student ambassadors to give a quick presentation about something they’re involved in at the school, and invite parent volunteers to speak about parental involvement.

Parents like to know what their child’s day-to-day will look like. On the tour, make sure to visit at least one classroom in action; you can create a rotating sign-up schedule in advance so there isn’t any last minute planning on the day of the tour. Guests don’t need to sit down and observe the class, but they will appreciate being able to pop in and note the setup and size. If possible, visit both a core subject classroom (e.g. math or science) as well as a music or arts classroom. Also plan to stop by areas that are unique to your school, such as a school garden or robotics lab. For larger schools,  parents might be interested in seeing key facilities such as the gymnasium and theatre.

Make sure to provide visiting families with something they can take with them that will aide in their decision-making process. Create a simple one-pager that includes key statistics about the school, such as enrollment, average class size, special programs and classes available, graduation and college statistics (if applicable), contact information, and enrollment/lottery dates and details (there will likely be a lot of questions about this last one, and you want to make sure everyone has the information they need – after all, this is the point of the tour!).  You don’t need to be a graphic design expert to create an effective document, and free online tools like Canva and HubSpot can help with layout and design.

If anyone on the tour has a question you can’t answer, note their contact information so you can follow up with them when you find the answer. And make sure your main office staff is knowledgeable of the school and trained to answer questions, or direct inquires to the appropriate people, when they receive follow-up phone calls.

When guests leave the tour, they should have a clear understanding of what your school is all about. This is a valuable opportunity to connect with prospective families and brag about your school; make the most of it!

School Leader Summer Reading: Cleaning Up Your School’s Payment Processes

by Dena Koren, Senior Client Manager

July 3, 2017

The (slightly) less hectic summer months are a good time to review the school’s financial policies and procedures to make sure everything is in place. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about one very important topic in this area: payment methods!

For many of our clients across the country, we see the same problems around navigating how to pay for supplies and services: school leaders want to be nimble and responsive to their team, but they also worry about managing the budget and following policies and procedures for the audit. Not an easy task!

As a school, you have several different payment methods at your disposal:

  • requesting a vendor invoice – perhaps matched with an internal purchase order (PO) – and paying that vendor by check
  • reimbursing employees or volunteers
  • maintaining petty cash at your school or central office
  • using a debit card associated with your bank account, or
  • paying by credit card

While there are reasons and occasions to use each of these, I strongly recommend using the invoice (and PO, if you have a PO process) and paying by check as often as possible!

The benefits of an invoice and check are:

  • Visibility into what you’re buying
  • Documentation and authorization that clearly follow your financial policies
  • Savings driven by consolidating orders and purchasing through contracted vendors
  • Cash management because you can readily control when checks are written

Because a well-run invoice and check process is centralized through your business staff, the ostensible drawback is that you are strictly controlling and slowing down the purchasing of materials and services. This may feel limiting to people! One way you can address this is to keep a regular weekly schedule of ordering and negotiate fast shipment times with your vendors. Another method can be purchasing portals like Staples.com or ClassWallet.com or purchasing systems like Procurify, which can allow individuals to order through a single source and follow the approval process.

For other payment methods, limit usage to the needs that they address best. Here are a few examples:

  • Employee reimbursements: mileage and meals when traveling, fingerprinting fees, limited emergency supply purchases
  • Petty cash: making change in the front office for school purposes (e.g., break a $20 or give change for the purchase of a school t-shirt), pay an emergency plumber who only accepts cash
  • Debit card: if you have a school credit card, almost nothing. The reason is that debit cards take money directly out of your account, potentially bypassing internal authorization and increasing the risk of missing documentation. If you don’t have a school credit card, then see the “credit card” section below for some reasons you might need your debit card.
  • Credit card: ah, a necessary evil! Let’s talk about this in greater length . . .

With so many digital purchases done online via credit card now, it is nearly impossible to avoid getting a school credit card. But be sure to create a robust credit card policy to go along with it! Think about both the card uses and the mechanics for your policy:

  1. Who will have a school credit card? Keep this limited, perhaps only the office manager, executive director, and/or principals. Note that it’s likely that either the cardholder or someone else at the school will need to personally guarantee the card. It’s difficult for charters to get small business cards that do not require a guarantee.
  2. What can be purchased on the credit card? Keep this limited as well, for example: travel expenses, team appreciation dinners, conference fees, specialty supplies (can be a slippery slope, so be careful!).
  3. What cannot be purchased on the credit card? Make this list robust to show you’re serious, for example: curriculum, books, school supplies, computer equipment or technology, field trip entry fees, yearbook vendor fees, refills on postage meter.
  4. How will credit card owners document purchases? Several best practices are: require all receipts to be submitted within one week of the close of the CC statement; outline consequences if documentation isn’t provided (e.g., CC usage suspended until receipts submitted); ensure that purchases of a certain level are pre-authorized; and ensure CC statements are reviewed by a supervisor (note: make sure your most senior school leader has a member of the board reviewing and signing off on his or her CC statements monthly).

One final take-away for your financial operations – It’s ok to make purchasing and payment a little inconvenient! The slight inconvenience will help ensure that you are conscious of your spending, you are staying in line with your budget, and you have everything you need when it comes time for your annual audit.

EdTec exhibits at the 2016 National Charter School Conference June 26-29 in Nashville!

View our presentation “Casting Your Net: Creating and Managing a Diversified Fundraising Strategy from our very own Peter Laub and our client Michael Whaley from Memphis College Prep here.

Questions? Contact Stephanie Cho at stephaniec@edtec.com