After school — as well as many in-school support programs — often face a critical challenge early on in their development: How can schools expand their services to meet student and school demand while still keeping the “back-office” as small as possible?
We faced this dilemma when expanding our Export program in Chicago, launched in partnership with the University of Chicago. The students served in this program doubled from 550 students with 50 tutors in 2013-2014 to 1,100 students with 85 tutors in 2014-2015. The key populations, from full-time staff to students, were nearly doubling overnight, and yet we wanted to keep the primary focus, and our funds, in the schools we were serving.
How did we accomplish this and remain data-driven without adding additional data analysts and operations managers? If you’re in the same expansion position, or looking to start a new program, here are some things to keep in mind.
In this instance, advance planning really helped our program to succeed. We knew that the program would likely grow substantially during year two, so we started internal conversations early on to work on these key steps. When planning to change or launch information management systems:
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses in your current information management systems.
- Determine what you can and can’t live without. For example, do you need just student metrics? Or do you also need staff performance metrics? In both of these areas, what will be the main deliverables?
- Reach out to similar programs and search the Internet to get preliminary ideas of new systems and software programs.
Once we identified new information management systems that we were interested in exploring, we set up several pilot programs. This worked well for us because we already had an existing program and were able to ask several key staff members to try it on the ground. We were then able to see how the data came through to our small central team to get a sense of whether it truly made us more efficient. Lessons we learned from this stage include:
- Pick the right people on the ground for the pilots. Their honest feedback on the proposed new systems should be an important part of your decision-making process.
- Find software vendors who can understand the unique elements of the program and can make specific accommodations for your metrics.
- Run the pilots for at least two to three months, and preferably for an entire semester, to have time to test out various metrics and data reports. This stretch can also allow you to more accurately assess the capacity of the central team to support these systems remotely.
- Moving forward
We picked two information management systems for year two in Chicago — Kickboard for student metrics and observe4success for tutor metrics — that are serving us quite well after successful pilots.
Upon reflection of the up scaling of our tutor program and adding more partners, we are happy with outcomes from the transition. One of our full-time, in-school staff members shared the following: “Overall, I think our data management systems have drastically changed for the better from year one to year two. They are easier to use, more accessible, and provide a wider range of opportunities for data analysis that didn’t really exist (at least with this much ease) in year one.”
While there will always be some limits with information management systems, this process can help you achieve your goal of growing or launching student-focused services without changing the size of your “back-office” team. With a deliberate planning process, priorities can remain focused on providing the students and in-school staff with great tools to ensure they have the data they need on a daily basis to drive instruction.
Madeline King is the Director of Operations for Match Tutors at Match Education. Match Education has worked closely with the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and Chicago Public Schools to provide an in-school math tutorial called “Math Lab,” an elective for-credit class as a targeted intervention for ninth- to 11th-grade students. In addition to the program in Chicago, Madeline oversees similar programs in other communities across the country.
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