In 1998, San Carlos superintendent Don Shalvey (now at Gates Foundation) joined forces with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings (now Netflix CEO) to launch Aspire Public Schools, one of the nation’s first charter management organizations. Aspire serves 15,000 California and Tennessee students in 38 schools and is one of the nation’s highest performing low-income school systems.
The Aspire team learned a lot of lessons about opening great new schools over the years. Casey Hoffman supports new school development and offered some additional advice.
There are hundreds of moving pieces to opening a new school and many stakeholders involved, which emphasizes the need for communication on every level. Aspire’s process:
- Process-alignment kickoff meeting with primary internal stakeholders from each team involved, including school leadership and department representatives.
- Weekly check-in phone calls with primary internal stakeholders from each team involved, including school leadership.
- A weekly update email to all internal stakeholders (including Senior Leadership Team) with key headlines and action items.
- One central point of coordination to keep everything moving forward and to constantly check-in with all key stakeholders.
- Debrief meeting to review highlights of process and lessons learned once the school is up and running–the team learns something new every time.
- If new school build/construction: regular (typically weekly) check-ins with facilities team/contractors and alignment sessions with facilities leaders and other team leaders impacted by the new site build: Operations, IT, Nutrition, Health & Safety, etc.
The academic program should guide the work, but don’t forget about operational priorities.
In the months leading up to a new school opening, the primary focus should be on ensuring everything is ready for the academic program to flourish from day one. However, there are key operational priorities that cannot be neglected and that need to be discussed as early in the process as possible:
- Nutrition/lunch program: How does this fit into master scheduling? Double checking all health code/permit requirements for the kitchen/food serving area and ensuring the proper equipment is ordered and installed.
- Furniture: Alignment on furniture needs should begin 5-6 months prior to school openings as the process always takes longer than anticipated. Getting quotes and designs from multiple furniture vendors can be time-consuming, but could save you money in the long run. Schedule delivery of furniture as early as the site will allow to build in time for replacement furniture and a second furniture order if necessary.
- Drop off/pick-up routine: More often than not, the drop off/pick up routine is a headache for parents and staff from day one, especially if there is not a solid operational plan in place and all staff on board to execute this plan. Visit other school sites with similar configurations before their school year ends to learn from their process and best practices. Purchase extra cones, traffic vests, etc. and consider the presence of crossing guards in the first few weeks at least
Build strong relationships with the surrounding community as early as possible.
- Opening a new school has a tremendous effect on the surrounding community and neighborhoods.
- Introduce yourself as early as possible to neighbors as well as the key members of the community (school board members, city council members, police department, etc.).
- Respect your surrounding community and work to become an integral part of the community.
- This responsibility to engage the community should be the administrative leader of the school, who will be the face of the school and is typically on site.
For more on opening great #NewSchools, see:
- Get the Culture Right: The Most Important New School Factor
- 10 Lessons in Leading New School Development
- The Nuts & Bolts of Opening A New School
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