One Year Wiser

Progress in the Face of Adversity for Charter School Authorizers

March 13, 2021 marks exactly one year from the day that school buildings closed nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the “Year of the Asterisk” continues, and most schools are still operating using all-remote or hybrid models, this unique anniversary inspired our team at SchoolWorks to consider for a moment how our fellow authorizers across the country have emerged – and continue to emerge – ever wiser from this crisis. And so, we asked our authorizer colleagues and friends to share some thoughts about how they are faring one year later. We hope you will find these learnings as inspiring as we do.

Challenges
  • Strapped Staff – Alas, the work didn’t stop and the expectations grew. Most authorizers voiced that they needed additional support to manage changing or supplementary needs.
  • Missing Data – The void in data challenged everyone. Authorizers continue to struggle with what data to use when considering academic performance in the absence of state (and other) assessments. Some are adjusting performance frameworks to add or allow qualitative or school-based data, but bridging this data and holding schools accountable to it is a major challenge in 2021.
  • No Option of Non-Renewal – Most authorizers have low performing schools they had identified as potential renewal challenges prior to the pandemic. Now that non-renewal may not be an option, some authorizers are viewing school turnaround re-emerging as a path for struggling schools.
Changes and Adaptations
  • Discovering Remote Efficiencies – Everyone has shifted to Zoom, GoogleMeet, and WebEx. The pandemic forced a “work from home” process that has – perhaps permanently – changed the way our organizations operate. Many find the resulting work to be more efficient than before.
  • Adding Data Sources – Authorizers are finding they cannot rely on outcome-based frameworks alone, and many are shifting to add softer measures of quality to replace and support missing standardized assessments.
  • Refining Site Visit Processes – School closures and safety restrictions have required authorizing offices to create or update protocols for virtual reviews/visits. With students no longer in classrooms, authorizers have had to figure out how to get virtual classroom observations right/better.
  • Embracing Social Change – All authorizers noted their individual and agency-wide efforts to become more informed about bias and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Most have adopted and incorporated expectations for and the evaluation of school DEI practices.
Developing Needs
  • Employ Reflection and Strategic Thinking – This unavoidable journey into the unknown has resulted in a lot of reflection and adjustment. Many authorizers noted that they are thinking about using this inflection point as an opportunity to engage in organizational evaluation and strategic planning.
  • Build Capacity – With so many new needs, capacity to effectively staff reviews and site visits has been a challenge. Many authorizers said they are looking for external help and or adjusting budgets to hire for the added needs.

How has your authorizing practice changed in response to the pandemic? What adaptations has your team made? If you would like to share some of your insights at our upcoming webinar, or join in and hear from other authorizers, email David Hartman at dhartman@schoolworks.org.


Stay healthy, and let’s keep talking!

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