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The Charter School strategic plan: Closing the loop

How many times have I seen charter schools put together a strategic plan, then less than a year later I hear, "I'm not sure if that in our plan?" I often wonder if schools are simply looking to check a box in an authorizer's list of things charter schools should do. In order to operate strategically, you have to operate according to your strategic plan. This means that there has to be a feedback loop so that the board and administration know and agree on whether the strategic goals of the school are begin met.

This feedback loop makes the job of the board easier and makes evaluating the administration of the school much less subjective. I also often hear "do you have a template for evaluating an administrator?" I do have one, but most of the key questions are centered on asking whether or not the administrator has successfully implemented the plan and is leading the school closer to meeting the goals in the plan.

A feedback loop can also be very simple. It does not have to be intimidating. The steps are pretty basic. Look at the goals and strategies in the plan. Develop a one page scorecard that can be scored in whatever fashion the board desires. For example, I like bar charts. Someone can assign numerical values that score how far along the school is in meeting goals. Goals like financial goals are pretty simple. They are numeric and can be set up pretty easily.

One challenge in monitoring financial goals is making a decision, in advance, of the range of acceptable performance. So, many board look at whether or not they are making budget. They turn the question into a basic yes or no question. In reality, most boards really care about how far off budget they are. The board needs to set up a criteria of acceptability. Let's say we are scoring the administration on a 1 to 5 scale. The board has to set the expectation for the administration. If a 5 is best, then how would a score of 5 be defined. Would that be that the school spends 10% less than budget? What if a school spends more than budget by $18.43? That probably isn't a 1 (although in Colorado law, you get a nasty letter from the state if you are over budget at all, but that is a different goal, not related to the financial health of the organization).

You can probably see that setting a scorecard rating scale is the difficult part. I've seen some use red, yellow, and green for each line item, but often no one has formally defined what qualifies as red, yellow and green, so that the determination is subjective. The discussion ensues about why the scorer chose that color. So, even if you choose the color system of scoring and not the numerical scale, you have to define the rating for each reportable goal and strategy.

As with the strategic plan, there is a problem when a board wants to monitor too much. I've seen charter schools get in trouble when the administrator is hitting all of the targets dead on and the board still doesn't like the administrator for some reason. This is difficult because it is unfair to the administrator, and can cause strife within the school. People are not machines, so they often veer from the strategic plan to feelings to evaluate administration. A good feedback loop won't eliminate that, but it can assist a properly functioning board to get back on track and pay attention to what it determined was important for the school's success.

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