As the saying goes… finders keepers, losers weepers. There certainly have been several opportunities to weep in the past year. There is a great deal we can learn from that deficit about our practice and who we are as leaders if we use those months and our learning to pivot our game.

Let’s find the half full side of the glass by taking a proactive keeper stance or guard the goal box, in our planning for the 21-22 school year. Whether you are a public or private school leader, PPE (per pupil expenditures) has taken on a new meaning. We have been tightly coupled with the public health authorities giving us our definitions and  travel advisories and it many times over has felt like a game of hide and seek.

There are at least three ways you can keep funding: FTE (full time equivalent expenditures – state directed monthly dollar allocations based upon student attendance), or monthly tuition income to maintain and or develop programs.

1. Access or Use Your Current Data

Remember the token statistics class that was part of the administrative prep program?  Just makes me moan thinking about it. This is not that. Deep breath. Yes, this past year was and still is an unprecedented service season. Acknowledging that is important, but if you stay hidden with that set of facts and your hunches, you may lose FTE/tuition and it will be hard to find the learning lever to actualize a game plan on what has transpired.

In other words, it will be done to your program vs. finding a launching pad for the future. Sometimes, we are just too close and need the objectivity that comes from well crafted surveys and interviews. Consider that Zoom Town Halls were unheard of and zoom accounts were largely for district level administrators.

Today, that is not our reality. That is also not true for your students and their support system’s base.  Your current enrollment holds rich potential data that can inform how you keep and build on your current demographic. Is there a percentage of your student body that wants the continued flexibility and safety of remote learning? Identify them, listen to what they’d like in terms of an educational model to meet their student’s needs for 21-22.

That means having a personalized learning options strategy upfront, instead of a reaction ladden one where we don’t access our best thinking. Last spring gave no choice but to work from the bottom half of the cup and our lack of game plan was evident to all. We were without many choices and all the ways known for most school entities was a one size fits most 100 year plus industrial age model that educated and provided childcare five days a week for the masses.

2. Understand the Role that Virtual Schools and District Boundary Choices Play with your Stakeholders

A little over eight years ago, there was an urban legend floating around the district I was working for at the time. The rumor was that 140 district students were choosing to leave our district for virtual schools who then claimed that FTE and related funding. Depending on your state funding model or your annual tuition, the math will speak for itself. Ballpark upwards of $8,500 times 140 students. Yes, over one million dollars. The rumor was actually fact and the findings were distributed fairly evenly across the K-12 band.

A district developed virtual program could provide options and recapture that budget. That was the decision lever that launched the local virtual program, staffed by district teachers and partnered with state approved local platform providers. Many times during the past year as that virtual enrollment skyrocketed and kept FTE in our fold, did the district leadership and school board thank that team for the foundation they had crafted and built upon?

Get to know the support staff that are in charge of boundaries or decisions to exit your school entity. Let them know what you are thinking about and planning to do that can personalize learning. Understanding and responding to data has a long term impact on your school enterprise which brings us to the third FTE keeper.

3. Honor

When our stakeholders see us listening and visibly honoring them, they vote with us. The disconnect between decisions to vote for levies and bonds, enroll students in neighborhood schools or private entities is often not based upon family economics but values.

A school system that communicates, listens well, and responds to needs and desires of students and their families has wait lists, passes local levies and bonds, and the trickle impact has families flocking to live there. What does honor look like in today’s climate? It really is a combination of the first two points. What are the indicators that we are using data to look forward and respond to the current reality?

Options are here to stay. Will you hide or seek?

Ready or not here we come!

Next Up: Choose Wisely – Selecting and Partnering with an online curriculum provider.


Meet the Writer

Darlene has 35+ years of experience in education spanning teaching and leading private and public schools K-12. She has also served as an adjunct professor in both education and university administrative programs for George Fox, Seattle Pacific, and Heritage. 

Her passions lie in student-centered practices, program development, and best practices approaches for teachers to employ. Her undergrad work was at Northwest Nazarene University, MED in School Administration from Central Washington University, and her Superintendent’s license was earned through the Executive Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University.

During her tenure in alternative learning the past 14 years, she became an NBCT and led a 10 member cohort with 80% certification in year one, and facilitated two district-level program cohorts. Her focus for the past seven years became a lightning rod for today’s educational paradigm: developing and implementing a successful district online learning program.