The lack of capital for building or renovating school facilities in low-income communities is a common problem. Fortunately, options exist to ensure that high-quality public charter schools can secure financing to meet the needs of their students. One such initiative is the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC).
If you have a project scheduled to begin construction in the next 12 months, now is the time to talk to possible NMTC partners! While the ins-and-outs of accessing that program can be confusing, Capital Impact Partners has put together an informational overview for members of the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA). In addition to the overview below, we recently hosted a NMTC Program 101 webinar. Watch it here.
How do New Markets Tax Credits Work?
1) Each year, the federal government holds a highly competitive application process to award tax credits to Community Development Entities (CDEs) like Capital Impact Partners. The next round of awards is expected in winter 2017-18.
2) These CDEs serve as financial intermediaries through which private capital flows from an investor to a project in a low-income community, like a charter school. In return for funding a charter school project, the investor receives a tax credit equal to 39 percent of the cost of the investment.
3) As a borrower, you stand to receive a number of benefits from a NMTC transaction:
a. Favorable blended interest rate
b. Potential for high loan-to-value (90 percent+)
c. Minimized debt service
d. Seven years of interest-only payments
e. Potential for substantial debt forgiveness (20-25 percent of the total project cost)
NMTC transactions have a few other guiding principles with loan amounts of at least $5 million and a term that lasts seven years. Once that initial term is over, the facility will need to refinance. Due to the complex nature of the transaction, the borrower should expect higher than usual legal costs, though these are usually absorbed by the funding in the transaction and not paid out-of-pocket.
A NMTC Program report that provides further details, diagrams and examples can be downloaded here.
What Projects Qualify for NMTC Financing?
The simplest way to qualify for the NMTC Program financing is if your school facility exists in a census tract where the poverty rate in the surrounding community is at least 30 percent and/or the median income is below 60 percent of area or statewide median income. A CDE would be happy to research your proposed school site to see if it meets qualitications criteria.
Capital Impact and Texas Charter Schools
Capital Impact Partners is a national Community Development Financial Institution. A key part of its mission is to partner with a broad range of organizations to finance facilities that increase access to critical social services in low- to-moderate income communities.
Capital Impact Partners sees Texas as an important state to focus its attention and has placed loan officers in Austin to better serve local communities through the region. Capital Impact Partners recently closed a NMTC transaction with Montessori For All to build a new charter school facility. By taking advantage of the NMTC program, Montessori For All secured $14.5 million in NMTC financing, representing more than 100 percent of the appraised value of the property. Montessori For All will pay interest only on the debt at below market rates during the initial seven-year period. At the end of that period, almost $5 million of that financing will be forgiven.
"New Markets Tax Credits allowed us to build the school facility we need to best educate our students. We were able to borrower low cost debt, letting us spend more of our funds in the classroom. The New Markets process was tough, but we could not have done it without Capital Impact Partners. Their dedication and commitment to our project made all the difference. We're thankful for their partnership in getting our school built!"
– Sarah Kirby Tepera, Chief Operating Officer of Montessori For All
Our goal is to ensure that public charter schools in Texas receive the financing they need for their projects. If you have any questions, you can contact Will Robison, Senior Loan Officer, at 512-369-3597 or email@example.com.
Since its founding, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) has sought out independent directors with a passion for education and a desire to improve the lives of Texas students to serve on the TCSA Board of Directors.
For four years, Secretary Rod Paige has served as our Chairman, and we are forever grateful for his time and dedication to the mission of TCSA and his tireless efforts on behalf of Texas public charter school students. As his responsibilities have increased in his new role as Jackson State University's Interim President, Secretary Paige has stepped down as Chairman of the Board. TCSA and the students of Texas have benefited from his leadership and commitment to provide Texas families a choice in public education to best meet the needs of their children.
I am thrilled to announce that the TCSA Board of Directors has elected Tom Castro to serve as Chairman and as a community and business representative on the TCSA Board of Directors. Tom is an experienced businessman having run a media company, oilfield service company, and managed private equity. He has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. but equally important, Tom has devoted countless hours to organizations educating America's children, and serves on the Board of Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston, the National Board of Teach for America, and Spellman College in Atlanta. He has formerly served as a board member for the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the National Council of La Raza in Washington, D.C., and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago. Tom resides in Houston with his wife, Jacqueline, a native of Bogotá, Columbia, and their two teenage children.
Tom has the experience and heart to help TCSA continue its momentum as we navigate our next chapter. We are thrilled to have Tom as part of TCSA and look forward to his leadership as our new chair.
By now you have probably heard the buzz and excitement about the addition of five new charter schools that were officially announced by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) on Friday, June 23rd. Here’s a snapshot of the five new charters opening in August, 2018:
Bridgeway Preparatory Academy, which will be located in the Carrollton/Farmers Branch area of Dallas and eventually expand to Tarrant county with an initial PreK4 - 2nd grade enrollment of 286 and a maximum PreK3-5th grade enrollment of 1,560. Bridgeway plans to use the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) instructional model to provide individualized instructional approaches to all students with an emphasis on students with unique learning needs.
Etoile Academy, which will open in Harris County/Southwest Houston and eventually grow to two campuses with an initial grade 5 enrollment of 150 and a maximum 5th – 8th grade enrollment of 1,500. Etoile will focus on a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum focused on first-time college goers and educationally disadvantaged students.
Legacy the School of Sport Sciences, which will start with one campus in North Houston and eventually add an additional campus in Southwest Houston with an initial 6th – 10th grade enrollment of 550 and a maximum 6th -12th grade enrollment of 2,400. Legacy will offer a unique instructional approach that will feature a rigorous curriculum based on all aspects of the worldwide sports industry, athletics, and sports technology.
Valor Public Schools, which will begin with one campus in the Austin area and eventually operate three campuses in Travis County with an initial K – 9th grade enrollment of 574 and a maximum K-12th grade enrollment of 4,200. Valor will offer a curriculum that combines classical education with a technology-infused, STEM-based instructional approach.
Yellowstone College Prep, which will operate one campus in Houston with an initial 5th – 8th grade enrollment of 240 and a maximum 5th – 12th grade enrollment of 1,000. Yellowstone is unique in that it will share facilities with the existing Yellowstone Academy and will offer a rigorous college preparatory education to students living in Houston’s historic Third Ward.
The Current Charter Approval Process
So what does the approval process look like for a new charter in Texas? To put it simply, there are four steps after the charter application is submitted to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). I like to call them the “views”: TEA Internal Preview, Independent External Review, Stakeholder Committee Interview, and State Board Review.
TEA Internal Preview is the first step and happens immediately after the charter application is submitted, and is simply a process where TEA Charter Division staff checks each application for missing components and conducts a plagiarism check. Next, an Independent External Review is conducted for all applications deemed complete. External reviewers are selected from applicants who respond to a request for quotation (RFQ) from TEA, with the expectation that reviewers have a solid educational background and an in-depth knowledge of charter schools. Individuals selected are provided a day of training with TEA staff on all eight application components and 90 indicators and in procedures for accurately grading each section. Reviewers are generally assigned six to eight applications to score (each application is scored five times) with about a 30-day window to complete the task.
Next, the Stakeholder Committee Interview is conducted for applications that meet or exceed external review cut score, currently set at 85 percent. This is where TEA staff and State Board of Education members probe projected school staff and governing board members about every aspect of the projected school plan.
Finally, based on the recommendations of the interview committee, the TEA Commissioner will recommend charters to the SBOE for approval, who, in the State Board Review, ask questions of commissioner-recommended applicants. Based on a full board vote, the SBOE will either take no action and thus approve the commissioner’s recommendation or choose to veto any of the commissioner’s choices.
Strengthening the Charter Approval Process
The approval procedure is arduous, and TEA Charter Division staff and Deputy Commissioner A.J. Crabill do an excellent job holding applicants accountable for fidelity to their proposed mission and vision and the tremendous duty to educate Texas students and responsibly manage taxpayer resources. But like any task of great importance, there are opportunities to improve the current approval process. The main area that should be strengthened is the Independent External Review.
Currently, independent reviewers work with TEA staff, but there is no process in place for reviewers to talk with one another and establish inter-rater reliability regarding common applications they are scoring, and there is no procedure for identifying and mitigating large variations in scores on the same indicator. One suggestion to improve the process is to conduct score panel conference calls, facilitated by a TEA staff member, where reviewers discuss common applications they have scored and share comments they have written about each item and the score they have assigned to the indicator. This is important for several reasons. First, panel reviews eliminate the possibility that when scoring an indicator a reviewer might miss details imbedded in the application narrative and any accompanying attachments. Second, the possibility for wide variations in scores will be lessened, especially if reviewers are required to explain any differences greater than a 20 percent difference in an individual indicator score between reviewers. Finally, panel reviews tend to hold reviewers accountable, as reviewers would have to justify their scores to the rest of the review panel. Ultimately each reviewer would independently score their assigned applications, but the score panel conference call procedure would help to improve the overall consistency and quality of the external review process.
Current commissioner’s rules would allow for these changes in the external review process to take place. Although no process for scoring applications is perfect, with some minor adjustments the entire external review process, and ultimately the entire approval process, would be greatly strengthened. At TCSA, our goal is to support and strengthen a diverse set of high quality charter schools, and any adjustments to improve the approval process will help to ensure that only the best applicants will be selected to provide Texas students a quality public charter school education.
This summer, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched a new STAAR report card that gives parents a more in-depth look at their child’s academic strengths and where their child needs extra help so they can be an even stronger partner in their child’s learning. As you know, students in grades 3-8 are required to take the STAAR tests in math and reading, and then parents receive STAAR report cards in paper form. This year, parents will receive a paper copy of the Report from their school in June, July and/or during Back to School.
New This Year
In addition to the paper copy, the STAAR reports are online at TexasAssessment.com with more information than ever before.
We are encouraging parents to Log In & Learn More in July!
When parents Log In with their child’s unique access code, they will find more information on how their child performed, including where their child did well and where their child might need more support. There are also questions to ask teachers, and the information will help teachers tailor instruction and uncover gaps in student learning.
For the first time, once parents Log In – they will see actual test questions from the STAAR test, as well as their child’s answers and the correct answer if different. This will also be available in Spanish later in the summer.
On the main page, parents will also find information on boosting reading levels and they can even access student reading level-specific summer reading lists and other reading resources.
For Spanish-speaking parents, it’s important to know the printed report will not be delivered in Spanish this year, but that will be changed for next year’s report. However, TEA is providing many web resources for Spanish-speaking parents this year – so it’s important to Log In & Learn More. There are translated materials available including sample STAAR report cards for each grade, videos and an explanation of the STAAR test.
Will you share the information broadly with charter schools across Texas and their networks of parents and through any channels including social media? If you have in-person opportunities with your community, please help parents walk through the site and access this important information about their child’s learning and progress each year. Thank you for helping us reach parents and encourage them to Log In & Learn More?
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently approved changes to the expansion amendment rules. The changes, which went into effect on June 8, amends 19 TAC Chapter 100.1033(b) and includes changes to how a charter school may request an amendment for relocation, expansion, and High-Quality Campus Designation.
A charter school may now submit an amendment for relocation at any time, so long as the relocation is for the same administration and staff serving the same students. However, a relocation request cannot be for an address more than 25 miles away from the original campus. Additionally, TEA indicated in their comments that the definition of a site will also be changed to reflect the 25 miles limitation.
EXPANSION AMENDMENT STANDARDS
The new rules add several additional requirements that charter schools must meet to have an expansion approved by the commissioner. First, before requesting an expansion amendment, the governing board must consider a business plan that, determined by a majority vote, is financially prudent relative to the financial and operational strength of the charter school. According to TEA’s response to TCSA’s comments regarding the vagueness of the prudent standard, to meet the prudent standard, TEA is “requiring the governing board to determine the appropriateness of the expansion request in light of that charter school's business plan.”
TEA limited the timeline for an expansion amendment request to be submitted between February and April before the school year in which the expansion will be effective. In response to TCSA’s, and several charter holders’ comments, TEA amended the rules to allow the commissioner to grant an additional year to implement the expansion if the requestor can demonstrate a need for an additional year.
To obtain approval for an expansion amendment, the charter’s most recent district rating must be “academically acceptable,” and the most recent campus rating for at least 90% of the campuses operated under the charter school must be “academically acceptable.” Additionally, the charter school must be accredited and the most recent district financial accountability rating for the charter school must be satisfactory.
NEW CAMPUS EXPANSION
In addition to standard expansion requirements, charter schools must meet additional criteria to create an additional campus. The charter holder must provide evidence that each school district affected by the expansion was sent a notice to the district’s central office of the proposed location and address of any new campuses or sites, including proposed grade levels and likely maximum enrollment. Additionally, the charter school under which the new campus will be assigned must have at least 50% of the student population in tested grades, unless it is a charter school serving students in prekindergarten.
TCSA submitted comments encouraging TEA to allow charter schools serving lower elementary grades to have the same opportunity to expand. TEA partially agreed and added languages allowing charter schools that serve prekindergarten students to include the students in prekindergarten to count toward the 50% requirement if the charter school can demonstrate acceptable performance on a commissioner-approved prekindergarten assessment or monitoring tool and the addition of the prekindergarten students meets the required 50% threshold. The commissioner-approved prekindergarten assessments are those approved for the High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant under TAC § 102.1003.
ADDITIONAL SITE EXPANSION
The commissioner may only approve an expansion amendment seeking to add a new site if the charter school campus under which the proposed new site will be assigned currently has at least 50% of the student population in tested grades, and the site will be located within 25 miles of the campus with which it is associated. This type of expansion also has the same prekindergarten exception as expansion amendments seeking to add a new campus.
TEA amended the rules and changed a Quality Expansion to an Expedited Expansion. An expedited expansion amendment request will not be effective earlier than the start of the fourth full school year of the affected charter school. The request must be received between February and April before the school year in which the expansion will be effective, unless the school can demonstrate the need for an additional year. The request must be communicated via certified mail to the board of trustees of each school district affected by the expedited expansion and the members of the legislature who represent the geographic area affected by the expedited expansion. Additionally, the request must be submitted with copies of the most recent compliance information, and the charter school governing body must have a business plan that is financially prudent relative to the financial and operational strength of the charter school. Upon request by the TEA, that business plan must be filed within ten business days.
If a charter school is determined to be eligible for an expedited expansion amendment, they will be notified within 60 days of the date the charter holder submits a completed expedited expansion amendment.
NEW SCHOOL DESIGNATION
Additionally, TEA amended the rules and changed the “High Quality School Designation” to a “New School Designation”. The new school designation permits a charter holder to establish an additional charter school campus under an existing open-enrollment charter school. Charter schools that receive new school designations are eligible to participate in the charter school program (“CSP”) competitive grant process for federal funding.
The requirements for a new school designation are the same as those as the previous “High-Quality Campus Designation,” with a few additions. The commissioner may approve a new school if a charter school meets all requirements applicable to an expansion amendment and has at least one operational charter school campus in Texas for a minimum of five consecutive years. The charter school must be evaluated under the accountability rating system with at least 50% of the student population in grades assessed by the state accountability system.
A charter school that is evaluated under the standard accountability procedures must have no campus with an “academically unacceptable” rating. Additionally the charter must have received the highest or second highest district rating for three of the last five years with at least 75% of the campuses under the charter also receiving the highest or second highest rating. The original proposed rules required all campuses to meet the highest or second highest ratings. But in response to TCSA’s comments, the rule was amended to reflect 75% of campuses.
Additionally, TCSA commented on the fact that the proposed rules removed schools under the alternative education accountability (AEA) from being eligible for the new school designation. TEA amended the rules and kept AEA campuses eligible for the new school designation. A charter school that is currently evaluated under the AEA must have received the highest or second highest AEA district rating for five of the last five years. Additionally, to be eligible, all rated campuses under the charter receiving an “academically acceptable” or higher rating in the most recent applicable state accountability ratings and have district-level assessment data corresponding to the most recent accountability ratings demonstrating that at least 35% of the students in the following student groups met the standard as reported: African American, Hispanic, white, special education, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and at risk.
The commissioner cannot approve a new school designation if the proposed school is merely an extension of an existing charter school.
HIGH-QUALITY CAMPUS DESIGNATION
Separate from the new school designation, TEA created a High-Quality Designation. A High-Quality Designation is a separate designation that must be paired with an expansion amendment. This designation allows a charter holder to establish an additional charter school campus under an existing open-enrollment charter school according to federal non-regulatory guidance and makes the charter holder eligible to participate in the charter school program competitive grant process.
For the commissioner to approve a charter school to be a High-Quality campus, the charter school must meet all requirements for an expansion amendment and have been evaluated under the accountability rating system with at least 50% of the student populations in grades assessed by the state accountability system. The charter school must also be accredited and have received the highest or second highest district rating for three of the last five years with all the campuses operated under the charter also receiving the highest or second highest rating. Additionally, the charter school cannot be under any sanction by TEA and there must be no charter campus identified for federal interventions.
The commissioner must also make three written findings to approve a High-Quality Campus Designation: (1) the proposed school satisfies each element of the definition of a charter school; (2) the proposed school campus is separate and distinct from the existing charter school campus that was already established; and (3) the amended open-enrollment charter school includes a separate written performance agreement for the proposed school campus that meets federal law and TEA requirements.
To apply, the charter holder must complete an application approved of by the commissioner, the new charter school campus must serve at least 100 students in its first year of operation, and the commissioner must determine that the designation is in the best interest of the students of Texas.
We hope this information has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please contact Christine Nishimura, TCSA Deputy General Counsel at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 512.584.TCSA (8272), ext. 306.
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.
After almost a decade of outstanding and unfailing service, our founding executive director, David Dunn, will conclude his leadership at the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) in October.
David had a huge task when we asked him to help create our Association in 2008 and no one could have done a better job. Under his leadership:
In addition, David’s advocacy expertise drove important policy advances for Texas charter schools, most recently:
David has done a great service for the children and families of Texas by devoting his wisdom, experience and in-depth policy knowledge to our cause. We fully intend to build upon his achievements and continue the progress he has begun under new leadership later this year.
The TCSA Board of Directors has appointed an executive search committee, headed by founding board member, Lori Fey—and also featuring Mike Feinberg, Alfredo Segura, and Kathleen Zimmermann—to lead the process for selecting a new executive director.
We are determined to find a leader who, like David, has the focus to tackle critical issues, a passion for providing quality education options, and the integrity to accomplish our objectives in ways that reflect the TCSA’s values.
David is leaving TCSA to launch a new venture, D2 Strategies, LLC, where he will continue supporting our cause as a consultant in education and other important domestic policy issues.
We want to thank him again for championing our efforts and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. David – you will be very missed.
Did you know that Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) created an energy cooperative that has saved charter schools more than $1 million since 2011? Savings for all current contract holders in 2017 amount to nearly $300,000! In 2016, Arlington Classics Academy used the program to reduce their energy costs by $19,000 annually and $57,000 over the life of their new contract. A+ Charter Schools are currently saving over $24,000 annually and $72,500 over the life of their contract.
TCSA, in partnership with Van Brunt & Associates, developed a charter-specific request for proposal (RFP) process, which includes:
Members typically receive five bids, which leads to greater cost savings. Not only will you stay compliant through the competitive bidding process, you will save money for your school.
Are you interested in savings tens of thousands of dollars annually? Here’s how it works:
“…it was great that Annette (TCSA broker) was able to shop all those vendors and find Constellation Energy. She also enabled us to lock in the pricing 4 months ahead of the expiration of the previous contract, at a time when the prices were at their lowest.”
– Richard Tuck, Chief Operating Officer, La Academia de Estrellas
For more information and learn about charter members who have used this program, contact Erin Tholen.
A Needle In a Haystack?
Hiring people to work at charter schools can be challenging. Our teams work longer hours, go above and beyond the job description, and are frequently paid less than their traditional school counterparts. Directors of School Operations often face intense durations of stress, are required to manage multiple streams of work, and perform at very high levels. As such, the process of hiring, training, and retaining these individuals can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
The skill set required for a Director of School Operations, particularly at large campuses with many competing priorities, may be available with an internal candidate. More likely, however, organizational leaders will be required to look beyond their four walls and outside the norms of their typical talent pool. This translates to reallocating precious resources to hire a high-capacity individual. Candidates may be sourced from the private sector, local government, veterans of military or civil service, or small business owners. Applicants with backgrounds in education, business, finance, supply chain management, and management will bring value to the school. More important than skill sets, however, is the will set: the drive to action, to get in and get dirty, focus on constant improvement, a temporary acceptance of the good while seeking the excellent, an ability to adapt and overcome, and a mindset of solutions, rather than simply problems.
As schools consider the position, equally important is the internal capacity to train and support. Does the central office have a structure that reflects the divide between academics and operations? Does the Chief Operating Officer have the skills and capacity to train and coach the Director of School Operations? Are central office employees primarily from an education background or from other sectors? How can the governing board’s skills and networks be leveraged to support in this new role? These questions are important because while Directors of School Operations will ultimately report to principals, principals will not have the skills or time to provide hands-on training.
While some charter management organizations (CMOs) implemented the Director of School Operations early on, this role is relatively nascent. While educational service centers provide some general training, the sector lacks a one stop shop for the specific competencies required for this position. Educational consultants and other associations tend to focus on specific areas such as special education or business operations. Current best practices have materialized through extensive trial and error and constant process improvement. In some areas, the Charter School Growth Fund has convened top organizations to document and develop sharable materials. These materials are becoming more been widely available, but only scratch the surface.
Perhaps the hardest part is retaining these high-performing individuals. When a school leader transitions out, things are rarely seamless and the impact is felt schoolwide. The same is true for the Director of School Operations. Given that the role oversees many disparate functions, it is challenging to hire a new candidate with the skills and abilities as the outgoing one. Therefore, retaining these individuals is critical to the school’s overall success. Aside from a competitive salary, several key factors impact retention:
1. Empowerment – Provide Directors of School Operations significant decision-making authority and communicate that authority to teachers, parents, and community members. Principals should only involve themselves when absolutely necessary.
2. Clarity – Clear roles, goals, and expectations are essential given the tensions that may arise from all different aspects of school. From the top to the bottom, everyone should know who owns which outcomes.
3. Support and Coaching – Provide consistent feedback both on-the-spot and during check-ins. Outward support of the Director of School Operation in the moment will demonstrate confidence, even if that decision is not the “right” one. Manage repercussions together, while coaching privately on the back end, will exemplify the team approach to school leadership.
4. Praise – Principals earn praise when the school performs well. However, recognize the effort that the Director of School Operations AND his/her team undertake to help drive outcomes. Public applause encourages teachers to recognize the work and highlights everyone’s contribution.
You may be thinking to yourself “Is this really that hard to hire/retain a Director of School Operations, and if so, is it really worth it?"
Yes. It is pretty challenging to hire and retain Directors of School Operations. And yes, it is a worthwhile investment in time and resources. Hiring and retaining a Director of School Operations yields dividends; the school gains an additional administrator; principals are freed-up from non-essential functions; organizations build leadership capacity; and teachers who wish to step out of the classroom have an additional career pathway. Having found the needle, schools must do everything in their power to hang onto them.
Hopefully you are convinced that these Directors of School Operations are a) essential to campuses, AND b) that while difficult, these candidates can be identified, hired, trained, and retained. Next week, I will delve into some of the goals, metrics, tactics, and practices to ensure a high-performing Director of School Operations and campus operations team.
Just as there is no silver bullet in education, hiring a Director of School Operations will not solve all of your challenges. What hiring a Director of School Operations will do is to clarify roles and responsibilities for students, staff, and parents; increase opportunities for direct coaching and management to support staff; allow Principals and Assistant Principals to focus on teaching and learning, all of which create a healthy school culture, and ultimately drive student achievement.
If you are interested in learning more about the Director of School Operations role, tune in to this podcast, recently published by the Charter School Growth Fund. Similarly, D.C. Public Schools was recently featured on NPR regarding their pilot program to implement Directors of School Operations through DCPS.
Finally, at a recent conference held in the Rio Grande Valley, panelists from four different KIPP regions participated in discussion focusing on KIPP’s journey to implement, hire, and train Directors of Campus Operations. I strongly encourage you to check out those resources, reach out to schools already doing this work, and of course, contact TCSA.
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. I can be reached at ENguyen@txcharterschools.org.
Most students earn a well deserved break this summer while their parents continue to juggle work and family responsibilities. It's easy to let the demands of the school year fade away for a couple of months. Homework, tests, and projects give way to some time outside with friends, and maybe a little too much time with video games and smart phones. Some fortunate students will take a trip away to make summer vacation memories. This year, as in all odd numbered ones, our children aren't the only ones taking a break. Within days of the last school bell ringing, the Texas Legislature also wrapped up their regular session. Lawmakers spent the last 140 days debating thousands of bills impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Unlike school they don't meet every year, and because some work wasn't finished on time, Governor Abbott is calling them back to Austin to consider unfinished business in July. Only the Governor has the power to call this “special session,” and he alone determines what issues lawmakers deal with during the 30-day period.
Public charter schools made some solid gains at the state Capitol during the regular session this year, with the tremendous support of thousands of parents. Some 18,000 supporters sent more than 12,000 emails and made phone calls and visits to lawmakers. More than 2,000 rallied on the steps of the Capitol and heard politicians pledge support for our most pressing priority: the urgent need for facilities funding. Lawmakers did pass a bill expanding access to the permanent school fund (PSF) bond guarantee program, a move that will make an estimated $3 billon more available to back bonds for school construction and expansion loans. Public charter schools will save hundreds of millions in financing and servicing debt. It's like getting approved for a better credit card with much lower interest rates, but you still need the money to pay for what you charged on the card. Every public charter school student in Texas, and that's about 250,000, deserves facilities funding. If the state provided it, as they do for all other public school students, the 141,000 students on waiting lists to attend a charter school might actually get to enroll and change their lives.
We all fought every step of the way during the last 140 days to make the case for facilities funding, and because of your work, the debate waged on until the very last hours of lawmaking. As proud as we are of all this work, it still hurts to lose. Especially when we are closer than ever before to achieving our goal. So we fight on. It's time to take our advocacy for public charter schools to the next level. We must grow our support from the incredible 18,000 to thousands more from every charter school in our state. State lawmakers are home now for a few weeks before they head back to the Capitol. We can't rest, they need to hear or voices and then they need to act. If we don’t take action, our lawmakers certainly won’t.
Soon we will begin the work of reaching out to our elected officials to make sure public charter schools are not lost in the shuffle this summer during the special session. To everyone that has helped so far, thank you. Our job is not done, and we are counting on you to help us finish it so that every student can reach his or her potential and every student has an opportunity to attend the school that best fits their needs.