If you have missed the first two sections on Driving Achievement Through Campus Operations, please see Part I and Part II before moving on. 

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.

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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

Learning Walk at IDEA’s Frontier Campus in Brownsville

Want to take a peek into a high performing charter campus? The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) will host a Learning Walk at the IDEA Frontier campus in Brownsville on April 11 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. As you may know, IDEA campuses excelled in the preliminary A-F accountability data submitted to the legislature in December of 2016, especially in Domain IV, College and Career Readiness. Come tour the campus with us as we learn about the charter system’s initiatives and strategies to reach their goal of 100 percent of their students being college bound. The visit is free, please join us for this informative session and question and answer period. Register Today!

Houston Executive Leader Meeting and Training

The next Houston Executive Leader Meeting will feature the training, Active Shooter – Prevention, Detection and Response, to help you learn more about preparing your charter system for an active shooter. 

This training will be presented by the Houston Police Department and is sponsored by the American International Group (AIG).  This training will be led by Officer Erik Termeulen, a seasoned law enforcement public servant and a U.S. Army veteran. He is a qualified trainer for Active Shooter response for the Houston Police Department and often conducts training to other police departments.

Officer Termeulen will walk the audience through past events including Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. And then he will discuss how faculty and students can be prepared and assist in preventing such incidents from occurring and how to respond should such incidents occur. He will also discuss prevention, detection and response best practices for school administrations to reinforce their duty of care standards.

• Faculty and Student Resources to prevent and detect issues.
• Preparation for alerts, evacuation and liaison with law enforcement.
• Planning for medical care including trauma and psychological for victims.
• Prepping for media and social media issues.

Registration and lunch will begin at 11:30 a.m. Attendees will have parking validated.

Register Online. 

Following the training, TCSA will host a meeting to provide legal and legislative updates pertinent to charter schools.

There is significant momentum for charter school facilities funding this legislative session. Earlier this week, Senator Donna Campbell held an event at the Texas Capitol to highlight joint efforts to narrow the funding gap between students at public charter schools and traditional school districts.

Sen. Campbell was joined by state Reps. Harold Dutton, Dwayne Bohac, and Ron Simmons to discuss the importance of providing charter schools with facilities funding through their companion legislation, SB 457 and HB 2337.

Also participating in this event were parents, charter leaders, and advocates from Austin area charters including Harmony Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Public Schools, Not Your Ordinary School (NYOS), Orenda Education, and Rapoport Academy (Waco). These schools, among others from across the state, coordinated a letter writing campaign beginning last fall to encourage families to reach out to their elected officials regarding the need for facilities funding.

Pricilla Cavazos, a parent whose child attends NYOS, shared her personal story on finding a school to best meet the needs of her child and her experience on a waiting list for a charter school. Additionally, Ms. Cavazos told legislators the need for facilities funding and what it would mean for her child to have access to a school library and large hallways in a brick and mortar building (as opposed to a portable classroom).

Larkin Tackett of IDEA Public Schools also delivered remarks describing their student success and tragically, the number of students on a waiting list to attend one of their campuses.

TCSA wants to thank these legislators for hearing the demand of Texas families and responding with filing SB 457 and HB 2337. This is the first time a House bill for charter school facilities funding has been filed by a set of joint authors representing both bipartisan and geographic diversity. This effort is led by legislators representing Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley, where a majority of charter schools educate students.

We also want to thank the families from across the state who wrote letters to their elected officials advocating for public charter schools. Many of these letters were delivered to legislative offices later in the afternoon.

Click here to watch the full event in its entirety. (not compatible with Chrome).

Several staff members from the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) traveled to Nashville last week to join our charter school colleagues from across the country for the National Charter Conference. There were inspirational speakers and training sessions for the charter school community to share information and best practices at the conference. 

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was the announcement of the 2016 Broad Prize at the first general session. On Monday, June 27, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools named IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) as America’s Best Charter School Network and the winner of this year’s prize. The Texas-based charter management organization will receive $250,000 to support college-readiness for their largely Hispanic student population.

CEO Tom Torkelson and several of the IDEA team were called to the stage at Music City Center to claim their prize.

IDEA serves more than 24,000 students in 44 schools throughout the Austin, Rio Grande Valley, and San Antonio regions. Nearly 90 percent of IDEA's students are low-income, and 95 percent are Hispanic.

Two out of the three finalists this year were Texas-based charter schools and included IDEA Public Schools and Yes Prep Public Schools of Houston, along with Success Academy Charter Schools of New York. The first Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools was awarded in 2012 to Yes Prep Public Schools and in 2014, the recipient was KIPP Schools, which began in Houston, Texas.

It was exciting to cheer for our Texas friends at IDEA as they were revealed as the 2016 winner. TCSA congratulates IDEA on their success in providing a quality public education to students and we look forward to supporting and working with this network as it grows.

On June 27, 2016, TCSA issued this statement regarding IDEA's win.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting an education legislative briefing with the Texas House Border Caucus Chairman Cesar Blanco and Representative Bobby Guerra at an IDEA campus in McAllen. Additionally, Representative Eddie Lucio, III participated along with staff representing the Texas Senate and House Delegation and Congressional offices.

There was thoughtful dialogue between charter school operators and school district representatives on our first panel highlighting their partnerships. Panelists included Tom Torkelson of IDEA Public Schools; Dr. Daniel King of Pharr San Juan-Alamo ISD; Yasmin Bhatia of Uplift Education; Traci Davis of Grand Prairie ISD; Elliott Witney of Spring Branch ISD; and Mike Feinberg of KIPP Houston. Each partnership featured a different aspect of their work: addressing the challenge of recruiting high-quality teachers, teacher and staff professional development, access to school district resources and extracurricular activities, and access to high-performing, college preparatory charter school programs. The panel successfully discussed how collaboration between traditional public schools and charter schools can achieve great outcomes for students.

The second panel, with Sarah Orman of the Texas Association of School Boards and George McShan of Harlingen ISD, focused on the new Districts of Innovation law. The panelists discussed how this new law allows school districts to operate with the same flexibility as charter schools, as well as the process by which a school district becomes a District of Innovation. We are thrilled schools districts now have the same opportunities charter schools have in regards to innovation and customizing educational programs to meet the needs of their students and communities.  TCSA offers our support by serving as a resource to these districts. 

Jessica Morffi, of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, traveled from Washington, D.C. to McAllen and shared with the group the new requirements from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. This was a thorough overview of the new policies that take effect beginning July 1st and its impact to schools.

I believe that it is important to collaborate and engage with each other because we are all in the education space. We are all in this for the same reason and that is to improve education outcomes for students. We must learn from each other, build on each other’s successes, and help drive student improvement, which is ultimately why we’re in education.

I still remember how crushed I felt when I was convinced that I wasn’t being chosen for the position at the first charter school I applied to in Austin. After weeks of applications and phone interviews, I was already planning to stay another year in Puerto Rico and try it again next summer. Even when I didn’t entirely know what working for a charter school meant, I immediately took to the high expectations that I saw during my sample lesson. I didn’t know what their secret was, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Three years later, countless hours of work, almost 300 students served and now becoming a Grade Team Lead for 1st grade at IDEA Rundberg- I am very happy they called me back and I got to learn what those high expectations meant in the context of charter schools.

The same expectations that originally drew me to charter schools is also often the reason that working in a charter school can feel so exhausting. One of the main purposes of charter schools is to give families more educational options for their children, and hopefully, to make sure that at least one of their options is a phenomenal school at no cost to them. And while providing students and families with a school system they deserve feels like a large expectation on its own, that usually isn’t the only expectations we in the charter school world face daily. With charter schools carrying an inevitable political charge with them, the high expectations within the school are matched with high expectations externally. So with the daily work teachers like me commit to daily: staying at school until 9 p.m. creating materials, being available to parents over the phone until late night for any questions on homework, and of course living on coffee. It can be overwhelming when met with the feeling that you are trying to prove your school works when so many are expecting you to fail. If you are a charter school teacher, and thus totally dedicated to the mission of giving ALL kids and families the chance to go to and graduate from college, the weight of high-expectations is a daily reality.

The commitment to excellence in charter schools is something usually spoken about in the context of the commitments of kids and families, but is also so much a part of the daily lives of teachers. Expectations, and the monitoring of teachers progress towards those expectations, is the way we ensure that charter schools are indeed committing to excellence for kids and families. We see this in the feedback that is provided on a weekly basis if not more frequent depending on the teacher’s need. We see this in the way areas of strength and areas of growth are described on various categories like culture, delivery, professionalism, etc., with clear next steps following every observed behavior. We see the commitment to excellence and the high-expectations in the whole process, a process that includes weekly or biweekly meetings with your manager to discuss rationale around feedback and ways to improve. For me, seeing was believing, because this system worked. Not just for me, as it did make me the teacher leader I am today, but also for the kids and families I serve. We both were held to high expectation, and with the school’s clear commitment to excellence, we both met them.

The expectations that are set on charter school teachers took on new meaning as I learned that founding charter schools are no exception to these astronomical standards. Don’t get me wrong, I had the wonderful privilege of being part of two founding schools, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience. It was a trial and error process from day one with a steep learning curve and short timeframes. We tried different behavior management programs, we tried and retried hallway procedures, we tried, learned and implemented various assessments, and all with the knowledge that we had to get it right fast, because we were serving kids and families that deserved a terrific school today, not a terrific school tomorrow. Though that could have felt like more of a weight being added to our daily work, it actually felt great to be part of a team of educators that got to put a school together, and to realize that with our dedication to a common mission, we could provide what our families deserved. Now on my path to leadership, I realize that working at a charter school, not to mention founding a charter school, is no easy task. Commitment to your team, to your kids, and to your families is non-negotiable. But at the end of the day, those expectations don’t become a weight anymore. They become the standard that you realize you can actually rise above, and in doing so, a mission that unites schools and communities to do something exceptional.

Being a charter school teacher has made me the best teacher I could be, because I was given high expectations, the rationale for why they were important, and the tools I needed to meet them. I’ve grown in more areas than I knew existed in teaching: my classroom management-stronger, the way I deliver my lessons- tighter, my communication with parents- more humble, establishing culture- responsive to my kids. My time as a charter school teacher has allowed me to internalize the weight of high expectations, and realize that they are the key to achieving our mission of making college a reality for all children. The expectations that drew me to charter schools, that often led me to points of exhaustion, and that allowed me to help increase the educational opportunities for communities are the same reason that in 5, 10, or 15 years you will find me at a charter school, hopefully in a position of leadership, continuing to set and meet high expectations for kids.

On Thursday, March 3, 2016, IDEA Rundberg, home of the Rattlers, held a dedication ceremony at its Austin campus, which serves 468 students.  The ceremony was hosted by the academy Principal Karen Weissinger and college preparatory Principal Pike Nichols and in attendance were more than 100 parents and family members, as well as representatives from the KLE Foundation.

IDEA public schools are celebrating their 15 year anniversary, although the IDEA Rundberg campus opened in 2015 after the team converted the building into a school from a bowling alley. 

Principal Weissinger delivered brief remarks and identified the school’s areas of focus to include daily attendance, meals for students, and providing transportation for students.  Principal Nichols also gave the vision for the college-prep program which is by 2022, the first graduating class will have postsecondary education plans to attend college. 

Additional remarks were given by Mr. Rodriguez from the IDEA Allan campus and a student who discussed how learning is fun and how grateful she is for her teachers and other students.  TCSA congratulates IDEA Rundberg on the dedication of its campus and wishes the teachers and students continued success. 

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