Case Study: One School’s Responsive Strategic Plan

Case Study: “Improvement is Well Within Our Reach”

The School: A 9-12 high school in New York

Performance: Impressive graduation rates, mediocre college readiness

Background: This charter high school received a three-year term after applying for renewal for the first time in summer 2013.  This was primarily due to limited, and mediocre, academic data. With another renewal due in summer 2016, winter 2014 was an ideal time for the board and leadership to map out the next three years.  The stakeholders knew that a positive graduation rate trend between 2014 and 2016 would be the key factor in earning a five year renewal. The board set out to strengthen its academic oversight through better use of data, as well as increase financial reserves. 

Vision: All stakeholders were committed to the goal of receiving a full-term recommendation after the school’s next renewal application.

Challenge: More than 75% of incoming students historically entered the high school two to three years behind grade level in math and ELA.  Most grade 9-10 teachers had to provide remediation and teach grade-level material simultaneously. It was an inefficient approach. The greatest challenge was getting these same remediated students to become “college ready” in four years.

Objectives: Increase the graduation rate by 10 points over the three-year term until it met the accountability measure of 75%. Lower/stabilize enrollment to 340-360 to keep class sizes small. Add $600,000 to reserves over three years.

Timeline: The school would have the three school years from 2013-14 through 2015-16 to make a compelling case for a full term.

The Plan: The leadership and board met within a month of the short-term recommendation to make a strategic plan. Driven by the ticking clock until their next renewal, the board chose strategies that could be accomplished in the short term. They focused on immediate changes to scheduling and staffing. Difficult decisions needed to be made.  Cutting some popular electives made room for 80 extra minutes of daily math and ELA, allowing for a separate ELA and math skills class, in addition to the existing math and ELA blocks. The business office was charged with a full review of all internal systems and outside contracts to seek efficiencies and savings. The board worked with a consultant to reassess the questions they asked at each board meeting, which resulted in a high-quality dashboard tool.

Metrics: The quantitative metrics included: graduation rate, enrollment, and cumulative reserves. The board’s updated dashboard design would therefore always request updates on these numbers and projections, among other pertinent questions.

Results: With the school’s board and leadership committed to a focused strategy for three years, the clarity of each board meeting significantly improved compared to the first term.  The school met its enrollment, graduation rate and financial reserves objectives by the second year of the three year period. They went into their next renewal with momentum, confidence and the financial reserves to be a clear candidate for a full term, which their authorizer recommended.