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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 This pandemic has underscored our vulnerability, the inequities that persist in our society and education system, and outdated elements in the way some of our schools are designed.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.

Leading in a Crisis: Spotlighting Our School Partners Rising to the Challenge

April 13, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively. This time, we’re providing some inspiration and sharing examples of how our school partners are going above and beyond to serve their communities.  

Across the country, schools are transitioning to some form of remote or online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. While this is a time of uncertainty for many educatorsit is also an opportunity to find innovative ways to respond to challenges and approach learning. Although schools are physically closed, school leaders are finding ways to keep their school communities connected and engaged. They are making sure students have the appropriate tools to continue learning at home, providing online learning resources, and encouraging students and teachers alike to find time to relax and have fun.  

To provide inspiration and circulate ideas among the charter school community, we are spotlighting a few examples of how our school partners are rising to the challenge, broken into four categories: 

  • Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions 
  • Student Engagement 
  • Community Support  
  • Equitable Access 

This is only a partial list of the many ways our school partners are serving their communities. If you have an example from your school that you would like to share, please click here to let us know 

Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions   

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are implementing online learning and sharing educational resources with both students and parents. 

Para Los Niños  

As a way to help parents keep a structured learning schedule for their children, Para Los Niños is sharing practical resources such as example study agendas for each grade level on their website  and Twitter channel. They include a mix of online educational resources, such as Khan Academy, to supplement in-class content or material.   

Language Academy of Sacramento  

The teachers at the Language Academy of Sacramento are creating weekly virtual learning packets that include daily schedules to keep kids on track. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep is making the transition to distance learning by uploading daily video lessons on their YouTube channel.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Rocketship Public Schools Digital Learning Launchpad

Rocketship created a Digital Learning Launchpad to help families and educators adapt to learning from home by sharing what is working for their organization. Rocketship is sharing continuously updated resources, tools, and advice to support and advance student learning and character development from home. 

Connect Community Charter School 

The school leaders at Connect Community Charter School are providing their students and families easy access to helpful resources. They developed mini-websites for each grade level utilizing Google Sites to share distance learning resources and grade-level appropriate educational resources for parents to explore.  

Elite Public Schools 

To help continue the learning process during school closure, Elite Public Schools is providing family and student resources on their website. The resources include a daily schedule to suit the needs of both parents and students, along with free educational tools to keep learning fun. The website also features a student highlight video that shares what students are learning from home.  

High Tech Los Angeles 

High Tech Los Angeles is making the transition to distance learning by providing daily schedules and live sessions for each grade level. They also have a distance learning FAQ to answer any questions or concerns that parents or students may have.   

Intrepid College Prep 

Intrepid College Prep hosted remote learning webinars for parents in three languages and posted them on their website.  

Lighthouse Community Public Schools 

Lighthouse Community Public Schools is supporting the success of students by sharing learning resources for each grade level on Google Docs. The learning resources include work packets created by teachers  along with online resources to support distance learning. They are also providing free educational online content for parents who are looking for additional support and enrichment ideas to continue learning at home.   

Student Engagement   

Our school partners are finding creative ways to engage with students during the crisis, to both deliver critical information and provide a much-need break or healthy laugh! 

Para Los Niños

Para Los Niños is utilizing social media to keep things fun! On opening day for baseball, they shared an image of their staff on Zoom, all wearing Dodgers jerseys. Although they couldn’t celebrate opening day on campus, they didn’t let it hold them back from showing their team spirit!

Ethos Classical  

Ethos Classical Spirit Week

In an effort to bring joy to distance learning, Ethos Classical announced its first annual virtual spirit week on Instagram, encouraging students to post pictures and stories of artwork, silly outfits, and family photos.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Although these are uncertain times, Rocketship is finding opportunity in the crisis. On their blogthe charter network is sharing how teachers, families, and students are making the most out of distance learning. They are also using social media to highlight how teachers and students are managing to have fun along the way.

Strive Collegiate 

In the spirit of friendly competition, Strive Collegiate Academy hosted a dance contest in their Instagram story in which students could vote for the best of two TikTok videos featuring their teachers! They are also using Instagram to promote their virtual spirit week

Amethod Public Schools 

Student health and safety is a top priority for many schools. Teachers from Amethod Public Schools created a YouTube video that walks students through five essential steps to help them stay safe during the quarantine.  

Élan Academy

Virtual dance parties, pajama day, and college pride day are just a few ways that Élan Academy is making the most of spirit week.  Although students aren’t on campus, they are keeping spirit week alive by encouraging students to participate in fun at-home activities.   

Grizzlies Prep 

This is a hard time for many students, but teachers at Grizzlies Prep are sharing motivational videos on social media to keep students encouraged! In the videos, they are also providing ideas for ways that students can have fun with their families while at home.   

Community Support 

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are supporting their community with access to teachers and counselors via phone or video chat, as well as other resources families need during this difficult time and transition to at-home learning. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep Distance Learning

Even though the school campus is physically closed, Creo College Prep is making sure that both parents and students have access to teachers.  The school posts schedules and office hours on their website so that parents know what their children should be focused on and when they can video chat with teachers for support. The school is also hosting a daily community chat where the whole school comes together to connect and share gratitude.  

Memphis Merit Academy  

The school leaders at Memphis Merit are committed to making sure families have access to a teacher or administrator during the school closure. Parents and students can call a virtual teacher hotline for assistance with coursework.   

Alpha Public Schools

Alpha Public Schools fundraiser

To support their school community during this crisis, Alpha Public Schools is providing access to remote learning resources and family support resources. To make sure students have access to the internet, they are offering mobile hotspots to help students connect to the internet so that they can complete coursework. The organization is also offering counseling check-ins for students who are in need of additional support. To help parents who may be experiencing financial hardship, they have established an emergency fund to raise money to provide financial assistance and other resources. 

Oxford Prep Academy  

To keep parents informed about the crisis, OPA developed a COVID-19 Resources and Information page where they are sharing information on many topics including local meal service locations for all K-12 students, available childcare locations, and a COVID-19 hotline staffed by local nurses.   

Nevada Rise

School leaders at Nevada Rise created the Families of Nevada Rise Facebook group and shared instructions for how to join to encourage families to connect and support each other during this time. They also created a YouTube channel with fun videos. 

Buffalo Creek Academy 

Buffalo Creek Academy

Buffalo Creek Academy plans to open this fall, but they’re already very active in their community. The leadership team recently set up a table at two grocery stores and handed out school supply bags to families to support students learning from home. They’re also holding professional development sessions online in preparation for the upcoming school year.  

Equitable Access  

During this challenging time, it’s important that schools provide equitable access to the technology and training needed for students to continue learning at home. Here’s a few examples of how our school partners are committing to instructional equity as they transition to online learning. 

Amethod Public Schools / Oakland Charter High School 

Oakland Charter High School recognizes the importance of ensuring all students have access to the appropriate technology to continue learning at home. They are distributing Chromebooks to students in need and providing internet services to families who lack access.  

Solare Collegiate  

Solare Collegiate is loaning Chromebooks to students who do not have access to a computer at home, and their website includes information about free access to community hotspots. Solare is also helping to make sure all parents and students are prepared to participate in student learning by providing detailed instructions about how to sign into email and Google Classroom.  

Alpha Public Schools 

Alpha Public Schools put together a one-pager with information about free or low-cost home internet options for families, including instructions for how to sign-up.

 

During these uncertain times, it is inspiring to see how schools are going above and beyond to provide their students with quality online learning and make things fun along the way! We hope the examples provided here will provide ideas and inspiration for school leaders across the country to try something new or different. If you have an example you would like to share with other school leaders, please click here to let us know.