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Driving Achievement Through Campus Operations, Part I

June 7, 2017

Over the next several weeks, I will address the important role that operations plays in a high-performing charter school. In order to drive exceptional outcomes for all students, operations must play a central role at the school rather than an afterthought. To elevate the importance of operations, I will first discuss the role of a Director of School Operations. My second blog will pertain to the hiring, training, and retention of Directors of School Operations, concluded by the roles and goals of the position and his/her direct reports. I hope you will join me, and I look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and concerns.

Divide and Conquer: Rethinking Schoolwide Responsibilities

With June upon us, our sector naturally breathes a collective sigh of relief as prospects of vacations, cook-outs, and time with neglected family and friends become a reality. While rest and recuperation are essential, NOW is the time to reflect on student outcomes and be forward thinking. While school is in session, there is simply too much noise and activity to effectively long-term plan, think about and refine new ideas, and implement innovative strategies to drive student achievement. June is an ideal time to define student success for the coming year and engage others in this vision.

While there are a variety of proven interventions and well-researched practices to drive academic results, one of the greatest levers to student achievement is more time in the classroom. More time in the classroom not necessarily for students, but rather the principal. The primary role of a principal, and what should consume the vast majority of his/her time, is to focus on instructional outcomes. Speak to many principals, however, and they would cite the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts operations of the school as the major barrier to that endeavor. Imagine the possibilities if leaders were given ten or more hours every week to focus on coaching, reviewing data, professional development, or teaching.

Enter the Director of School Operations (DoSO).

Known by many different names (AP of Operations, Director of Campus Ops, etc.), all Directors of School Operations have one overarching goal: ownership of all non-instructional aspects of school operations. Through deprioritizing operations principals can spend 75 percent of their time, or more, focused on achievement.

From managing the front desk and PEIMS to ensuring students are properly fed and learning in a safe environment, the Director of School Operations oversees the staff and processes that engage students from early morning to late in the afternoon. Fire and safety drills, copiers and technical support, purchasing and receiving, immunization records, vision and hearing screens, new student recruitment and registration, and more all fall under the purview of the of this jack-of-all-trades. As a steward of student culture, ensuring uniform compliance is as important as being a part of the schoolwide disciplinary system. Directors of School Operations build relationships as they engage families, represent the school at community meetings, host report card nights and parent-teacher conferences, and greet students each morning during drop-off and pick-up.

Learn more about KIPP’s journey to impact achievement through operations.

An essential part of the leadership team, the Director of School Operations has as much ownership, responsibility, and management skills as the principal. His/her team may include up to 50+ employees ranging from lunch and recess monitors to IT technicians and functional area managers. Highly successful Directors of School Operations are numbers and metrics oriented, using data to drive decision making, while still understanding nuance and making calculated, but sometimes risky, judgement calls. He/she sees the big picture while focusing on the daily details, and comfortably provides praise, coaching, and development to staff. Directors of School Operations clearly define goals for each department manager and how those goals align with the school’s vision for success.

The Director of School Operations works hand-in-glove with the principal to lead the school. These leaders must be aligned on key priorities and provide for a shared vision for excellence for all parties. Through weekly check-ins, leaders hold each other accountable, provide feedback, anticipate needs, identify schoolwide challenges, and collaborate towards solutions. Healthy conflict will naturally arise if both are to be successful. Principals must relinquish some decision making authority. Tensions around operational efficiency and academic program will demand compromise; balancing the needs of teachers vs. the needs of front office and support staff are a constant give-and-take. That is not to imply that a principal will no longer be involved, but rather that he/she is not responsible. A principal may be asked to greet students, but the Director of Operations will oversee the entire pick-up/drop-off process.

Now that you know more about the role of the Director of School Operations, some of their qualities, and how they help lead campuses, stay tuned until next week to learn more about how attract, retain, and train these individuals. 

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