When the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation first considered opening a charter school in Kansas City, its leaders looked to examples of other high-performing charters, including the one led by former SchoolWorks CEO Spencer Blasdale.
“The central theme they embraced was about being a coherent, focused organization,” Blasdale says. “That’s always been my bias—no matter what the focus or the mission of a school may be, it needs to have a coherent framework and great instruction.”
That core belief has guided a long-term relationship that has helped define the early lifecycle of the foundation’s eponymous first charter, The Kauffman School. Working in partnership with foundation leadership, SchoolWorks helped Kauffman study other high-performing schools, develop its charter application, and then select and coach its new leaders. “It’s been a great example of how we learn together with our clients,” Blasdale says.
In 2009, the Kauffman Foundation approached SchoolWorks to review a charter application for what would become the Kauffman School. After reviewing the application, SchoolWorks and foundation members decided to “restart” the process, assembling a new team with Blasdale serving as a thought partner and guiding the foundation through a comprehensive, year-long deliberation that ended in consensus on the new school’s mission and key attributes.
Together, SchoolWorks and Kauffman staff developed a study tour, during which a team of foundation officials visited high-achieving schools across the country, researched best practices, and “asked tough questions,” Blasdale says. The process informed the Foundation’s new charter application, which was approved by its authorizer in 2010. Based on their experience working together, Kauffman asked SchoolWorks to design a coaching relationship for the new school leader .
“We felt very much like we were learning together,” says Aaron North, education director of the Kauffman Foundation. “The collaborative nature of the process led to trust among board members and staff, and our initial work together has provided a strong foundation for a continuing relationship with SchoolWorks.”
The Kauffman School opened its doors to an inaugural class of 100 fifth-grade students in 2011. The school’s mission can be summarized in three words—create college graduates—and it follows a rigorous college preparatory philosophy based on the examples and practices of other high-performing charter schools.
SchoolWorks’ consultative relationship with the Kauffman School’s leadership continues, with Blasdale providing coaching services for the principal. “I told the Foundation that one of the top three things you should do is have a coach for the principal,” he says. “But I didn’t recommend myself. I advocated for the principal to choose whom she would like to work with.” Based on the school’s ongoing relationship with SchoolWorks, the principal selected Blasdale, who holds weekly coaching conversations and conducts two school visits each year. “We went into this making sure we could structure the coaching with clear goals that she really wanted to work on,” Blasdale says. “It’s a relationship built on trust.”