Category Archives: Charter Schools

School Leader Summer To Do’s: Moving From Strategy to Execution

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. —Mike Tyson

It’s July. You are enjoying some well-deserved vacation after another intense year as leader of your school. The past year has wrapped up, and along with it, your latest round of long-term strategic planning. You feel good. In fact, you feel great. The cares of running the organization day-to-day melt away as you remember your inspirational ten-year impact goals, performance metrics, and high-level strategic priorities. You drift off into a visionary daydream…

…until suddenly…

It’s August.

Kids will be back on campus in less than a month. Teacher professional development starts next week. You start to get that gnawing feeling and ask yourself: “What about that strategic plan? Isn’t there something I’m supposed to be doing right now?” You pull the final plan deck off your shelf and realize that your strategic plan has no instruction manual, and you don’t know where to begin.

This blog post is for you.

As the leader of your organization, you’re the one ultimately accountable for delivering on the strategy. Delivering on a strategy is not easy work; as you move forward, it’s important to keep your mission front and center. Remember the kids, families, communities, and teachers who will benefit from you diligently executing on the plans you laid out. But this doesn’t mean you can or should be responsible for the bulk of the work of the strategic plan. Your personal responsibility falls into three buckets:

(1) Make sure the organization is actually executing the plan you laid out.

Two tips on this one: First, break your high-level goals into an actionable implementation plan so that all team members understand how the work they’re doing contributes to the overall mission and vision. Second, assign someone else as the project manager for that plan (and hold them accountable for driving that work forward). You must focus on leading rather than getting lost in the day-to-day of effective project management, but your organization would be wise to put project and portfolio management best practices into place to move the work forward. This can include everything from clearly defining roles and responsibilities for executing the work, to ensuring regular step-backs (see below), to establishing a mechanism for anticipating and mitigating significant risks that might threaten success.

(2) Identify how and when you will step back to evaluate progress and gauge whether your strategy is actually having an impact.

As with project management, it is wise to ask someone else to hold you accountable for plan outcomes. A board often plays this role, but it could also be an outside advisor or coach. Coupled with this, schedule strategy review sessions for you and your leadership team to step back and evaluate progress/impact. Depending on your pace of change, you may want to hold these every six months or so.  

(3) Decide when to change course.

Decide up front how and when you will adjust course. Metrics can be useful here, but ultimately there will be some amount of judgment and deliberation. If something doesn’t seem to be working, don’t continue to push relentlessly forward, potentially wasting precious time and money. In the spirit of Vanilla Ice, stop, collaborate, and…figure out what the problem is. Instead of proceeding down the path you set years ago, keep your head up and make sure there is a clear stage-gate or “greenlighting” process in place for major investments and new pieces of work. You want to move fast, but moving too fast is a recipe for failure. Finally, when you do change course, do so with conviction — and make sure to communicate the “why” to your team and other important stakeholders.

Need some support drafting or implementing your strategic plan? Contact our Strategic Advising team at: strategy@bellwethereducation.org.

What Does it Take to Be a Quality Authorizer?

The autonomy-for-accountability bargain at the heart of the charter movement rests, crucially, on the effectiveness of the entities — known as authorizers — that have the ability to approve charter schools and the responsibility for holding them accountable. If authorizers are lax in their responsibilities — approving weak applications, failing to effectively monitor or assess school performance, or refusing to close low-performing schools — the accountability part of the bargain isn’t held up. But if they overstep their bounds, by limiting the kinds of schools they will approve, being overly prescriptive about requirements for school approval, or trying to micromanage schools they oversee, the autonomy part of the bargain goes missing. Getting the right balance between holding schools accountable and protecting their autonomy is a crucial question, both for authorizers and the charter movement as a whole, and since the start of the charter movement, it’s been the subject of heated debate — one that has intensified in recent years.

Continue reading

A Day in the Life: Bellwether’s Aurelia Twitty

Aurelia Twitty with her honey badger award at the Bellwether Education Partners 2017 retreat

photo by Tanya Paperny

When Aurelia Twitty joined Bellwether in 2016, we learned about her 20+ years of volunteer service to DC-area schools and her commitment to educational equity. In addition to her role as executive assistant and office manager, she brings a wealth of experience as a parent advocate for education, a Certified Life Coach, and someone who has served with various organizations for over 25 years.

I loved getting the chance to talk to Aurelia about her background and advocacy. Whether as PTA president, member of a charter school Board of Trustees, or Bellwether’s own Operations team member, Aurelia brings energy and passion to everything she does. So much so that she received the top honor at this year’s Bellwether retreat: the Honey Badger Award! (See the photo above for her prize.) The award recognizes “exceptional perseverance and badger-ness marked by exuberant team spirit.”

Read our conversation below (and this Q&A is a great companion to our recent blog series on family engagement, which you can read here!):

You’ve volunteered with schools in the Washington, DC area for over 20 years. Why is it important for you to serve in this way?

I’ve always believed that a student’s chance for success is higher when the student, parents/guardians, and school all work together. I grew up a poor African American child in Washington, DC, and my parents did not invest in my education by visiting my schools or providing me with the at-home assistance I needed. I saw firsthand how my peers outperformed me while I was in elementary and middle school because they had the guidance of their teachers and their parents/guardians.

I made a promise to myself that if I ever had children, I would volunteer at their schools and work with them at home to ensure they had the best chance of success. I have three children — two adult daughters and one son who is a senior in a DC public charter school — and I’m proud to say I kept my promise.

What are the different roles you’ve held over the years? Continue reading

ICYMI: Recapping Bellwether’s School Transportation Event

This week, Bellwether released a new report, “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century.” The report analyzes the current state of school transportation from multiple perspectives, including efficiency, educating students, and environmental impact.

In conjunction with the report’s release, we hosted an event at Union Station’s Columbus Club. The event, moderated by Bellwether Partner and Co-Founder Andrew Rotherham, featured a great lineup of panelists with decades of experience in the school transportation sector:

  • Cindy Stuart, Hillsborough County (FL) School Board member and voting member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Mike Hughes, Assistant Director of Transportation at Boston Public Schools
  • Joel Weaver, Director and Principal of Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (CTEA), a Shoshoni language immersion charter school located on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in southeast Idaho
  • Kristin Blagg, Research Associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, focusing on education policy

The discussion focused on issues that affect school districts across the country — the cost of running buses with empty seats, approaches to providing service to charter schools and other schools of choice, integration of school transportation with public transit systems, and conversion to buses powered by alternative fuels like propane.

Following the event, attendees were shuttled to various parts of the city in — of course — a yellow school bus!

Every day nearly 500,000 school buses transport more than 25 million students to and from school. That fleet of school buses is more than twice the size of all other forms of mass transit combined — including bus, rail, and airline transportation. And yet, it has remained largely unchanged for more than 50 years. As districts continue to grapple with tightening budgets, rising costs, declining ridership, and the ever-changing way in which schools enroll and serve students, school transportation will continue to play an important part in federal, state, and local policy decisions.

To learn more, read the full report, and watch the archived video of the event below.

Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century

We're talking school transportation this morning at Union Station with a great panel! Check out our new report, "Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century." bit.ly/bellwetherbus

Posted by Bellwether Education Partners on Tuesday, May 2, 2017

 

Join Us May 2nd at Union Station (with a Yellow Bus!)

The largest system of mass transit in the U.S. isn’t the airline industry. Nor is it trains, or city buses, or even all those things combined. The largest mass transit system in America is made up of the nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students to and from school each day.

Despite innovations in technology, developments in clean fuels, and big changes to the way schools work in many communities, in most places, school transportation operates much as it has for decades.

But should it?

On May 2nd, Bellwether will host a discussion of the role of transportation in education, its many challenges, and some innovations and possible solutions. We hope you’ll join us at Union Station in Washington, D.C. for a light breakfast at 8:45, followed by a lively discussion. At the end of the event, for that dose of nostalgia, we’ll even take you back to work on a yellow school bus!

Seating limited, RSVP today.

The discussion, moderated by Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham, will feature:

  • Cindy Stuart, District 3 representative on the Hillsborough County, Florida school board since 2012, and current board chair. She also represents the school board as a voting member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the federally-established transportation planning body for the Tampa metropolitan area. This cooperative relationship between the school district and the broader regional transportation planning infrastructure is unique across the country and holds promise for a more coordinated approach to meeting the needs of communities and schools.
  • Mike Hughes, Assistant Director of Transportation at Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS provides transportation to district, charter, and private schools in the Boston area — navigating a complex cross-sector system of education. Facing escalating costs and other pressures, the district has taken innovative steps to address significant challenges.
  • Joel Weaver, Director of the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (CTEA), a charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation, owned by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, in rural southeastern Idaho. CTEA serves students dispersed over a large geographic area, representative of the challenges many rural schools face in transporting students in safe, efficient, and cost-effective ways.
  • Kristin Blagg, a research associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, where she focuses on education policy. She recently co-authored “Student Transportation and Educational Access” with Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, a paper that explores the role of student transportation in school choice, profiling five choice-rich cities.

We rarely discuss school transportation, but its impact reverberates through the entire school system — raising issues of educational equity, student safety, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Please join us as we explore these issues.