In this session, Tricia Blum joined us to answer questions on back-to-school operations. She spoke about COVID-19 preparedness, transportation and staffing and financial management.

 

Join the experts as they answer all your questions live on Tuesdays on YouTube at 10am PT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET. Charter School Capital – YouTube

 

 

Read Full Transcript :

Michael:

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Tuesday Tips. I fully realize it is Wednesday. We had some scheduling challenges yesterday, so we are doing Tuesday Tips on Wednesday. Welcome back. We’re here every single week for about 10 minutes talking all things challenges for school leaders. I’m really excited to welcome my guest today. It is Tricia Blum. Tricia, welcome back. I think this is your second time with us on YouTube live, or we’ve just done so many webinars together, maybe I’m getting the two confused. But if you don’t know Tricia, Tricia leads up our consulting practices at Charter School Capital, helping school leaders navigate all the challenges that they encounter running their schools. And so we asked her to come back to talk about operations challenges and financial challenges that schools may be facing and answer some questions related to that. So we’re really happy to have you back, Tricia. Welcome.

Tricia Blum:

Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to share some of the wisdom I learned as a former CEO of Charter School Network, as well as all that I’ve learned at CSC. So glad to be here.

Michael:

Yeah, this is a brain we get to proverbially pick for the next 10 to 12 minutes that’s got so much deep experience with both leading schools and helping those school leaders that may be in tough spots that are working on challenges. So I’m really excited to ask Tricia some questions. So we’ll kick it off with this. We’re a few weeks into the school year. Some schools have been back since the beginning of August. Some just got back in the last two to three weeks. As you think about the beginning and the start of the school year, what should schools be thinking about from an operational perspective right now?

Tricia Blum:

That’s such a great question because I know I remember the days. Yeah, about five or six week, things start kind of slowing down enough that you feel like you’re not just putting out fires and of course those first couple of weeks you don’t know which fires are to come. So this is a great time to talk about operational aspects that schools should look at to ensure success for their coming year.

I wasn’t going to lead with this, but recently health and safety in terms of COVID. So I would be looking at, and I don’t know how many other folks have talked about this, but COVID-19 preparedness. Who knew we were going to be talking about it in Fall of 2023? I think you have to dust off your old policies and see if they still make sense. Figure out where your sanitation stuff is. Are you going to mask again? What are you going to do? And I think that’s incredibly important.

I have a couple of examples. I have a school in Indiana who they lost their entire middle school and their teachers and a Dean to COVID for an entire week the second week of school. And personal, my child went off to college, called me, no kidding, I left and she called and said, “Hey, my roommate has COVID. I’m standing in the bathroom with a mask on and campus safety is rolling in to figure out how this is solved.” So we don’t want to deal with it anymore, but I can’t state enough how important that might be to be looking at right now.

Michael:

Yeah. I was actually on Instagram this morning and there’s sort of a meme account for the Washington, D.C. area. I live just outside of Washington, D.C., as you know, and a teacher from Ward 7, we have eight Wards in the D.C. region, tweeted yesterday that basically her whole classroom is out with COVID. And just that it’s here. It’s still around, just because we’ve gone through the summer. Just an entire challenge to layer on already the other operational challenges that school leaders face.

I do want to mention, if you have questions about COVID, we have some older resources that are probably still very relevant from early on in the pandemic. I’d be more than happy to if people have got questions or want to reach out and ask us where they are, but you can also just go to our website at charterschoolcapital.com, search COVID in that search box, top right corner, and you will find a plethora of resources. But yeah, just a challenge I think a lot of schools are facing right now. Everybody’s going back into the classroom and bringing all their germs with them.

Tricia Blum:

Right. Absolutely. And again, like I said, I think, not just schools, all of us, I mean, I know when my child called and said that, I’m like, “What?” So we’re all getting a little flatfooted with that, so let’s get our policies put back in place and also find where all those old masks are and where is all that old hand sanitizer because you might need it again.

I think another really big challenge at the beginning of the school year that really sets the tone for the rest of the school year is transportation. So getting your bus routes and safety routes all put in place and taken care of as best as you can right now so that you can flow through the rest of the year. Certainly, I know, having spent summers working with bus organizations and creating routes and all of that, you think you’ve got it set, but when school starts, invariably you’ve got new students coming in from other areas, and so now’s a good time to address your transportation.

Staffing is also incredibly important right now, and again, it goes along with transportation. You’ve spent the summer sort of putting together your staffing plan. Again, kids have shown up that may have special ed that you weren’t planning on having. They may be stronger in areas that you weren’t. So hashing out if you need to move teachers around teaching and staffing assignments. And then in the same token, if you’ve got teachers that are new, and/or, again, like I said, you’ve got some challenges that you didn’t know were coming in terms of special ed or other resources, maybe ELL, addressing all of that through professional development, which you may not have scheduled for right now. You’ve done some right before school started, and then you’re not really planning to do some for a few months, so make sure you’re hitting your professional development.

The same goes for curriculum and instruction, and again, I could spend hours on all of these. I know we’re trying to spend 10 minutes, so I’m just bumping through the big highlights, right? Technology, same. You wrote a plan, now you have to make sure that the plan actually still works and then change it if you need to. So facilities and infrastructure. Along those same lines, you need to take a look at how the school building is actually working for you this year and make any needed repairs or maintenance. It’s also a great time, I think, to take a look at what next year is going to look like, right? You’ve got a whole new set of students. Our brains are all working on it. And so this is a great time to jot down some notes, if you will. I use the word jot down, put it in your tablet, doesn’t matter. Just so that you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I remember.” So come spring, you’re like, “That’s right. We need to make sure that our building has this or that.” So that, I think, is part of it.

Making sure that your communication plan out to your community stakeholders, parents and students, all of that. Again, you likely already have a communication plan, but making sure that it actually says what you’re doing and you’re doing what it says or make the changes necessary. Crisis communication, a huge part of that. Again, I mentioned COVID. You’re going to have those communications going out again, and probably a lot of us fairly lost.

Budget and finance. We can spend a lot of time talking about that. Review and adjust your budget as necessary. Attendance and records. That’s always tricky this time of year. Some states are getting ready to have their once or twice a year counts. Some states work on an average daily attendance. So it’s really important that whatever software you’re using, make sure that your attendance and records are straight so that you can get paid for those students. So that is, I don’t know, about 10 or 11 things. That’s all. Just 10 or 11 things that you should be paying attention to as you start out the new school year that will get you set up.

Michael:

If there was a masterclass for starting the new school year, you just gave that masterclass. So I’m going to give you a virtual pat on the back because that was an incredible rundown in a very concise amount of time. I want to ask another question related to something you touched on. As you’re getting your student count, as you’re looking at that budget, Charter Schools have obviously got to continuously manage their fiscal responsibilities and fiscally manage their practices and their audit readiness. Is there anything in this particular time of year beyond what you’ve already stated around just making sure how as a school leader you can improve that financial management and audit readiness for the rest of the year?

Tricia Blum:

So I think there are, and this is one that I personally learned. You need to hire competent financial personnel. You really do. I’m going to say this, and I didn’t say it five years ago, but I say it now. If you have the ability to hire someone that has Charter School funding experience, it doesn’t specifically have to be someone that has Charter experience in your state, but we know that Charter funding is an animal unto itself, and if you can find someone that is competent and understands that there is a lag in funding and that there are peculiar, easy for me to say, peculiarities, wow, around funding, I think that’s really important. And if the person you are working with is not competent, now is the time. I know so often we fire slow, and I know that sounds harsh, but this is the time. If you don’t have someone that’s not doing a job that you need to have done in finance, now is the time. Make sure [inaudible 00:09:59].

Michael:

Yeah, such good advice.

Tricia Blum:

… get rid of the non-competent. That’s, again, may sound harsh, but don’t spend the rest of the year hoping that they are going to catch up and figure it out because, I see it time and again, finances for Charter Schools are challenging enough. If you put someone that’s not competent in the seat for the school, you’ve got a whole world of problems. So I can’t stress that enough.

Michael:

Yeah, such good advice. One question I wanted to ask you related to the first question around the beginning of the year and sort of having your facility prepared for that beginning of the year and thinking about what you may need in a facility in the future, is you and I have talked a lot and we’ve also done a lot of work around audits and audit best practices and talking specifically about how you audit your building. Do you have any thoughts on what an internal building audit might reveal for a school leader to understand like, “Hey, is this building serving us now and is it going to serve our mission in the future?” Any thoughts there?

Tricia Blum:

I have a lot of thoughts actually, and I will say, doing a building audit at the beginning of the year, it’s a great time, because, again, you’re able to take a look at how the school is operating with your students this year, right? You can look at safety and accessibility, your learning spaces. What is your technology infrastructure? So often we don’t even think of that, or us non-techies don’t think of that anyway, and then you may have a great building, but it may need actual infrastructure. So I think resource allocation, energy. There are all sorts of things that you can specifically look at. I think, do we have an ebook on that, Michael?

Michael:

We do.

Tricia Blum:

Okay. I was going to say, good. So we’ve got that, but what I’m also going to say is a piece, when you are doing your facility audit, it is great to have your custodian or your janitor, of course, one of the leaders, if not the CEO or executive director, your insurance company, bring in your insurance company, and then hopefully you have someone on the board or a parent that’s pretty involved that is in the facility industry. I can’t stress enough the great audits that come from having a group of folks walking through the building because we all have a different lens and we all see things differently, and so that will give you a real 360 view.

Michael:

Yeah. Such good advice. And Tricia mentioned an ebook, a guide that we’ve done on all things audits. It’s available on our website. Again, just hop over to charterschoolcapital.com, search audits. You’ll get a very, very in-depth ebook, which I think is sitting behind my desk somewhere in this stack, about 55 pages long that we’ve refined over 17 years of working with schools. So you’re more than welcome to go grab one of those that Tricia intimately helped put together for us over the last last four or five years as we’ve rolled out that audit knowledge. Tricia, any last words of advice for school leaders when it comes to ops and what they should be thinking about? This is an open floor, open-ended question. Anything you’ve been hearing or any other wisdom you can share with us when it comes to operations and school leaders?

Tricia Blum:

For me, the month was always October, but for a lot of you, it’s right now. Now is the time to take a breath. You’ve made it through the first four or five weeks of school. Take a deep breath, stop working 12 hours a day. Enjoy what you have created, enjoy your students. Be good to your staff. Be good to yourself.

Michael:

Such a good way to end Tuesday Tips this week. We really appreciate your voice today joining us, even if it’s Wednesday. We appreciate that voice anytime Tricia comes on and chats with us either at a webinar or here on YouTube. So Tricia, I’m just going to extend a quick thanks again for your time.

As always, we’re here Tuesdays at 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern. I know it’s Wednesday. We’ll be back next Tuesday with Caroline Poland, who is joining us tomorrow for a webinar on teacher mental health and well-being. I hope you’ll come join us as we figure out decent strategies to help school leaders tackle and how to provide a safe space and mental and well-being services for their teachers. That’s tomorrow starting at 10:00 AM. You’ll have to register for that one. You’ll get the Zoom invite, and we hope we’ll see you there. But if you can’t make it tomorrow, Caroline will join us next Tuesday, 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern here on YouTube. Thanks again for joining us, and Tricia, goodbye. Hope you have a great Wednesday.

Tricia Blum:

Thanks so much. Take care. Thanks for having me.

 

 

 

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