Starting with the End in Mind
Hopefully school leaders are bought-in to the idea of hiring a Director of School Operations and have a strategy for identifying their needle in a haystack. In this final blog, I will discuss the goal setting process, the teams that Directors of School Operations manage, and how these interlocking parts contribute to a more operationally effective and efficient campus while maximizing student achievement.
While campuses vary in instructional focus, the underlying aspects of effective campus operations are relatively similar: the front desk must provide customer service; facilities must be clean and safe; and attendance taken each day, etc. High performing organizations, schools and others alike, have defined goals by which to measure success. Before determining outputs, a vision for success, an ideal state, must be defined. Specific and measurable outcomes that drive towards the ideal state are established for both academics and operations. Highest priority items are assigned to and owned by multiple people who collectively work together.
For example, many charter management organizations (CMOs) believe that Average Daily Attendance (ADA) is a critical operational lever; simply put, when students are not present, they are not learning. Therefore, this goal is not only the responsibility of the Director of School Operations, but also of the principal. The entire operations team is focused to ensure 97.5 percent ADA, relentlessly pursuing this goal by establishing tracking systems, conducting daily calls and home visits, and action planning. Directors of School Operations collaborate with principals to build buy-in for campus-wide attendance initiatives, conduct professional development with teachers to emphasize their role in strong ADA, and to problem solve around most frequently absent students.
For single site schools, the envisioning and goal setting activity can reflect the collaborative process between the principal and Director of School Operations. This allows both leaders to consensus build around goals while also negotiating items of particular contention. Jointly developed goals also allow leaders to better how academics and operations mesh together. For larger CMOs, this visioning process and goal setting is defined by district-level leaders to ensure consistency among individuals who occupy the same role throughout the network. A hybrid model allows smaller networks to develop up to four centrally driven goals complimented by two or three locally developed campus goal. In any situation, however, Directors of School Operations’ goals must be highest leverage, limited to five, and cut across responsibilities of various team members.
Goals for Directors of School Operations could include topics such as student recruitment/enrollment, average daily attendance, student re-enrollment, cost-savings, parent satisfaction, community engagement, and employee satisfaction. Although these goals are considered “operational,” grounding these goals to academic performance is essential. By driving cost efficiencies in campus facilities and cafeteria operations, for example, funds can be reinvested into new technology, advanced academic materials, additional professional development, etc., all of which contribute to student success.
Directors of School Operations should use the same framework of visioning, goal-setting, and grounding goals in academic outcomes with their direct reports to establish functional area goals. Goals owned by the Director of School Operations are further broken down to more specific goals for each of the individuals that they manage and oversee. Like their manager, direct reports should have specific and measureable goals, be able to clearly articulate those goals, and report out on progress during normally scheduled check-ins with the Director of School Operations. Whereas goal setting for the Director of School Operations may be more collaborative, goals for functional direct reports tend to be more directive. That being said, functional direct reports should be engaged to determine what specific actions should be undertaken to achieve the goal. In order to attain 97.5 percent attendance, for example, the PEIMS clerk might develop a plan to engage the most frequently absent students, present the plan to their manager for approval, and then be responsible for executing it.
In a typical school, the Director of School Operations will oversee and manage the front desk, PEIMS clerks, business office, IT support, facilities, cafeteria, and transportation (if applicable). Work related to community engagement, family support, public relations, and event planning typically also falls on the Director of School Operations to be executed the operations team. They may also partner with a counselor or parent/family support specialist to help close non-academic, social-emotional and family support gaps.
As a final component of professionalizing operations work, frequent, structured check-ins with a clear agenda and action-steps are highly recommended. Directors of School Operations and their direct reports should have standardized check-in templates used when meeting with their managers. While the content of check-ins are dynamic, progress towards goals should be reported on a consistent basis, as well as upcoming projects, and actions taken since the previous week to further efforts. Managers should spend the time reviewing and probing data points provided, helping team members to engage in structured problem solving, and providing feedback, coaching, and praise to the employee. Both the Director of School Operations and their team member should leave a meeting with clear next-steps, deadlines, and an understanding of future objectives.
By making the strategic decision to hire a Director of School Operations, schools separate out key functions into more organized and discernable streams of work with clear ownership and responsibilities. This not only makes the work more manageable, but also communicates a level of clarity and organization to all school constituents. It professionalizes and elevates the function of operations within a school setting with an understanding that operations serves to meet the needs of the academic program. Most importantly of all, however, is that this new role ultimately serve to free up essential time and resources for school leaders to focus on the core business of schools, educating children. When a principal is focused on instructional best practices and coaching rather than student dismissal and properly painted facilities, schools are better setup for both operational and educational successes.
Prior to coming to TCSA, I served as an Assistant Principal of Operations at a K-10 campus with IDEA Public Schools. I am more than happy to share more of my personal experience and discuss how Directors of School Operations are a critical asset to your school’s success. Feel free to contact me.