News Archive

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.  

New Year, Better Board

Click here to read our January 2018 newsletter.

2017: Year in Review

Click here to read our December 2017 newsletter.

June 2017 Regents Action Reduces Spring 2018 Testing Days

Actions taken during the NYS Regents June 2017 meeting will reduce the number of NYS grade 3-8 testing days from three to two days.


Winter 2017 Charter School Renewal Decisions: Recap

Renewal decision trends from January through March from all New York State charter school authorizers have been similar. Schools that come close to matching the three subgroup populations of the local district, and have higher achievement outcomes, are typically awarded the longest renewal terms. Although it is important to consider other factors such as organizational and financial viability, little we have seen so far in 2017 stacks up to those aforementioned areas.

With another group of recommendations expected in April 2017, we expect that these will mirror the trend set so far. The table below reflects all of the 26 renewal decisions to date, with four 2-year terms, five three-year terms, 17 5-year terms, and one non-renewal.

Grades Served Term Received NYS Test Performance to District ELL, ED, and SWD to local CSD
6-8 2 years Below Slightly Higher
6-8 2 years Below Lower
7-11 2 years Below Lower
K-5 2 years Below Slightly Higher
9-12 3 years Mixed Slightly Lower
K-5 3 years Below Slightly Lower
K-8 3 years Above Lower
9-12 3 years (Finance) Above Lower
K-8 3 years (Finance) Above 2 of 3 Lower
6-10 5 years Above Same
7-12 5 years Above Lower
9-12 5 years Above Mixed
9-12 5 years Above Mixed
K-12 5 years Above Mixed
K-12 5 years Above Lower
K-5 5 years Above Same
K-5 5 years Slightly Below Mixed
K-6 5 years Above Same
K-8 5 years Above Higher
K-8 5 years Above Same
K-8 5 years Above Lower
K-8 5 years Slightly Above Mixed
K-8 5 years Above Slightly Lower
K-8 5 years Above Slightly Lower
K-8 5 years Above Lower
K-8 5 years Above Lower
9-12 Non-renewal Below Below


Three Questions Every Charter School Board Member Should Know How to Answer

These are the three most basic questions that all charter school board members should be able to answer:
  1. Who do you serve?
  2. Where do you stand?
  3. What are you working on?
Here are examples of how a well-informed board member might answer those three questions.

Question: Who do you serve?

Sample Answer: For fifteen years since our inception, our school has served a student population that is 75% African-American and the balance Hispanic.  This composition reflects the neighborhoods we typically draw from.  Our enrollment has a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than our local district, but we lag slightly behind in students with disabilities and substantially behind the district in English language learners.

Question: Where do you stand?

Sample Answer: Our performance on state exams has historically been higher than our local district but we are still a long way from the state average.  We feel our leadership is quite strong but we suffer from one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the sector. This is largely due to limits in compensation packages caused mainly by our private facility costs.

Question: What are you working on?

Sample Answer: Our Board acknowledges that restructuring our upcoming facility lease renewal will allow for badly needed funds to support stronger compensation packages.  We are unsustainable without it.  Per our teacher survey, competitive pay is our faculty’s number one reason for seeking positions in other schools.  Once we do this, our principal should see a return on our investment, and she will not have to keep starting over every year with mainly first-year teachers.

Final 2016-17 Title 1 Allocations

If you find that your final allocation is higher than your spring 2016 estimate, you have two options.  You may amend your Title 1 budget and request the additional funds now, using the FS 10a form.  Or, you may choose to leave the funds in carryover status until the following year, so long as the additional amount does not exceed carryover limits.

If you find that your final allocation is lower than your spring estimate, you have two options.  You may amend down your Title 1 budget using the same FS 10a form.  Or, you may simply use the FS 10f to close out the grant at the end of the period, and cap the total requested amount at the lower final allocation, if that is the case.  If there are any questions, please let us know.  See allocations below.

Case Study: Identity Matching and Strategic Planning

Case study based on a charter school located outside of New York City serving grades K-8

In August 2016, this charter school received its latest scores.  They were well above charter-sector averages again, exceeded the local district and rivaled state averages.  On paper, the school’s renewal submission in summer 2019 should be straight forward as a very strong candidate.

However, when we walked through renewal step one (Identity Match) with the school, the results were revealing.  Despite the public’s perception of the school as a high flyer, the school’s leadership and board were not comfortable with what the school had become.  Parents thought the school took absolute student performance a little too seriously and emphasized the state test as the “end all, be all.”  In their eyes, the school had lost the positive energy it once had.

The school’s authorizer felt the school’s high results were skewed because of low representation of students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners, and an insistence on not back-filling seats after October each year.

Teachers, although highly satisfied in general, felt that an emphasis on test preparation was hampering their creativity. Finally, the school’s board and leadership felt that while chasing ever-increasing targets for student achievement, the school had drifted from its arts-infused, inclusive mission.

These findings inspired the school to write a strategic plan covering the three years leading up to its renewal deadline in 2019. Some of the objectives contained in the plan included:

All Schools Should be Operating with Strong Action Plans

Great action plans are formed by a close look at your school’s data, have achievable outcomes, are aligned with your professional development, and understood by all of your stakeholders.  Here are some recent examples from charter schools in New York.

Plan: “Our extremely close look at the 2014 and 2015 data revealed that we had the vast majority of our 400 tested students clustered in the high 2 range on the NYS ELA exam.  We were so close. The data showed this majority was getting fatigued on testing day three, and the data shows they didn’t have the writing skill set to perform well on the most difficult extended responses.  Therefore, we are going to emphasize writing wherever they go.  In Math, Science, everywhere, students are going to face challenging writing exercises.  We were previously letting them off the hook by limiting their exposure to writing.”

Result: 2016 scores in ELA doubled, and students reported feeling far more at ease with the most challenging parts of the ELA exam.  They are excited for 2017.

Plan: “Our school had a profound teacher turnover problem.  We had the leadership, curriculum, and professional development systems in place, but by the time we trained a first year teacher, they took that training to another school.  We knew that if we were constantly starting over each year with brand new teachers, we would never see the achievement outcomes we wanted.  In 2014, our Board activated a personnel committee.  Our committee met openly with all teachers to gather data on why they considered leaving.  We learned our situation was not just about pay, but a host of other factors that were well within our control.  We worked with our administration to implement incentives for recruitment referrals, even more targeted PD, graduate school reimbursement support, and more common planning time.  Although each school would find its own answers, these seem to be working for us.”

Result: 60% of teachers left in summer 2014, 24% in 2015, and 12% in 2016.  Our scores in ELA and Math are still not outstanding but they are now in the ‘high 20s’ and two years ago in the low teens.



NYS Board of Regents Approve Three New Charter Schools

The NYS Board of Regents recently approved three more charter schools.  Two are in NYC and one is in Syracuse.