Examining the challenges and pitfalls of school administration in a tech era.
GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Spencer
Businesses around the world use technology to streamline processes in every department. From human resources to project management, they understand that when employees aren’t required to spend time on administrative tasks, they can focus and become more effective in their jobs. In addition, by implementing key technologies, businesses save money, save time, improve communications, and identify ways to improve overall efficiencies.
The education industry is not inherently different from the business world. All educational institutions – including private, public, and for-profit institutions, face an array of administrative challenges including:
- Capturing and keeping student information up to date
- Creating a process for capturing, sharing and archiving grades
- Developing and managing content and curriculum that meets standards
- Implementing learning management systems that effectively deliver and store important and sensitive school data
- Designing a communication system appropriate for all constituents including students, parents, teachers, and school administrators
Schools need to be able to track student information, grades, and progress. They need to be able to communicate with parents and each other – a vital component of student success. In addition, schools need curriculum that meets standards, and they need teachers capable of distributing that curriculum efficiently. To operate effectively, schools must be able to report on each individual student, manage HR, and most importantly, ensure teaching and learning is always happening.
Unfortunately, the sheer man-hours and resources allocated to managing all these moving parts can be time consuming and costly. While most educational institutions have systems in place to take care of their administrative needs, these systems tend to be pieced together and require large amounts of time and effort to organize and collate all the necessary information.
Using business strategies in education
Some schools have found that the best way to build an efficient infrastructure is to take a page straight from the business world playbook. Like businesses, these schools are looking for integrated technology systems to restructure their systems.
One example of this strategy in action can be found in a charter/flex academy in Mexico. The academy used several disparate systems for school management, grading, curriculum management, student and teacher information and more. This mix of systems required educators and administrators to spend extra time collecting and organizing information for all day-to-day tasks as well as end of term reporting, student promotion, and school master scheduling.
Some challenges the academy faced included:
- Their content providers and the delivery systems for that content (LMS / CMS / SIS) did not communicate well with each other or any of their other management tools
- They did not have an efficient way to manage student information
- Their current technology had a complicated enrollment process
- They were unable to manage parent and student communication via their own portal
- The academy needed to use various systems to support their academic program such as pen to paper management of grade book, and a separate system to manage and deliver important notifications
- Expensive and time-consuming professional development across various departments was needed to navigate the separate systems
The solution – streamlining the educational ecosystem
To alleviate these inefficiencies, the academy implemented the ASSIST Educational Ecosystem to integrate all administrative and curricular processes. Using this platform, the academy was able to create a single system with hierarchical credentialing that allows relevant data to be viewed by the appropriate people.
Furthermore, with such an integrated system, the academy was able to provide an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) for each student. This ILP allowed students and parents to see the complete roadmap to graduation and gave them the ability to immediately address any problems that might hinder their success.
Finally, the academy took advantage of the company’s embedded K-12 school which is fully accredited for grades K-12. The online content allowed the academy to add multiple new educational opportunities to their curriculum including Business Certificates, US High School Dual Diplomas, and US College Preparatory Diplomas.
By implementing the ecosystem, the academy has streamlined their procedures, allowing them to pursue their aggressive growth goals, including the expansion of four additional academies throughout the region. In fact, once the academy had the ecosystem up and running, they were able to save enough time and money to expand their student population by 35% almost immediately.
The platform has been configured in an extraordinarily efficient manner at this school. They are using it to drive a “block study” program that, utilizes multiple tracks with multiple sessions of instruction that support student needs down to the individual level.
This optimized use of the provided environment has also allowed for additional educational tracks to support deeper learning with the incorporation of local, offline content that supports project-based learning in areas of student interest.
Additional benefits of streamlining educational systems
The connection of administrative, communication and curriculum systems had many benefits for the academy in Mexico. The connection created a one-stop-shop that allowed for interoperability and flexibility. The school experienced improved information accessibility and consistency, and empowered faculty, staff and students with new tools and capabilities to achieve success.
- Leveraging technology by integrating the curriculum, platform, instruction and professional development online provided efficient operations in multiple forms of blended learning at the school. This resulted in building healthy profit margins allowing the academy to continue managing, operating and building their educational offerings.
- The cost savings achieved by improving efficiencies, combined with a more robust net income, allowed the academy to develop and implement more aggressive building expansion plans.
- Typical front office work and management that took additional personnel and time to manage, is completed automatically and efficiently with the platform’s technology allowing staff to concentrate on improving student and school performance.
- The ecosystem provided offered an opportunity for the academy to implement efficiently and economically several blended learning models that accommodated their infrastructures and deliver education programs catered specifically to the local market needs.
- Providing easy access to a content and learning management system provided academy teachers with all the necessary online tools for success and empowered them develop a flexible and engaging teaching environment.
The experience of the flex academy in Mexico is just one example of the way schools can streamline their processes to achieve student and educational success. This particular academy, while for-profit, uses this ecosystem to develop efficiencies that save money – allowing them to serve the needs of underprivileged students around the region.
Every school, whether public or private, should consider utilizing business franchise best-practices and integrating all of their systems.
By streamlining administrative and educational processes, schools can reduce costs, improve workflow—and allocate more time and effort to increasing student success.
Michael Spencer is co-founder and CEO of ASSIST Education and managing partner at Global Expansion Strategies. Former Senior Director of International Business at K12, he also served as Senior VP at The American Education Corporation and is fluent in Spanish, travels extensively, and enjoys the entrepreneurial side of business. Write to: [email protected]