By Nicky Smith, President/Founder at Carolina Digital Phone, Inc. and Rhonda Dillingham, Executive Director of NC Association for Public Charter Schools
It has been said that the only thing worse than being forced to endure a crisis is wasting one. And for charter schools to waste the current circumstances could be catastrophic to longevity and stability. With this wisdom in mind, here are five ways that charter schools can turn the coronavirus crisis into a golden opportunity for long-term growth and success.
1. Make outstanding customer service an essential priority
It might seem strange to think of your students and families as customers, but charter schools are schools of choice, which means families do not have to select your school. After all, we’ve all heard the saying, “Parents vote with their feet.” As noted by Ipsos, the coronavirus crisis has forced businesses to reinvent how they stay relevant to customers in an increasingly unstable world. If we consider charter schools like businesses, the most vital way for them to stay on the radar screen is by delivering outstanding service at every touch point along the student’s journey, from initial pre-enrollment recruitment through post-graduation support. Providing outstanding academic engagement and family support has always been important to a charter school’s success. Now, it is an essential priority for survival.
2. Reimagine schooling
Charter schools are entrepreneurial by nature. That’s why when schools were closed in March, our leaders, board members, faculty, and staff were able to quickly plan and pivot into the new world of remote instruction. Have you considered how the pandemic has given us the opportunity to reimagine education? A survey by Gartner found that after the crisis ends, 74% of CFOs intend to allow some employees to work from home on a permanent basis. Naturally, some schools prefer to provide in-person instruction. However, some parents are anxious about the risk involved in sending their children back into the school building. What if Plan B or C became the norm? Discovering those educators who prefer to teach at least partially from home (provided that they have the required tools and technologies including cloud-based phone service and fast internet) while still providing exceptional instruction puts charter schools in a much better position for when, not if, the next crisis erupts.
3. Tap all staff for feedback and ideas
On a public health level, the crisis has vividly highlighted (or, in some parts of the world, starkly laid bare) the critical importance of constantly gathering information from all available credible sources because what was true a month — or sometimes even a day — ago may no longer apply. That’s not because the initial perception was wrong, but because new data has become available.
In this environment, charter schools cannot afford to rely exclusively on their school leaders to identify new ways to engage students, as well as provide staff opportunities for improvement and growth. Rather, charter schools need to capitalize on all available internal knowledge. This means everyone must be invited and empowered to contribute to the discussion on how to make the school better and stronger, whether they are a beginning teacher just out of college or a seasoned veteran who has been in education for decades. As far as contributing to the vision is concerned, all hands on deck is a commitment we need to make in order to achieve success.
4. Lean forward to lift up employees
We have not even begun to calculate the mental health toll that the crisis has had, and will continue to have, on staff. Even those who were fortunate enough to remain employed by their schools endured many sleepless nights as they worried (and continue to worry) about what the future will hold for them and their families. Amid this anxiety, charter schools have the opportunity — and some might say the obligation — to lean forward and ensure that all employees feel valued and cared for. A survey by LinkedIn found that the top three things that make employees feel like they belong are being recognized for their accomplishments, having opportunities to express their opinions freely, and feeling that their contributions in team meetings are valued. Notably, none of these things cost a cent, which is a key consideration given that many schools’ budgets have been shaved thin due to unforeseen and unbudgeted expenses. This is your chance to make your school the environment where teachers have always wanted to be.
5. Share your story
For too long the charter school community has been on the defensive. This is our chance to reclaim our story and spread the good news! Many charter schools are flexing their creative muscles and doing amazing things to serve their students. What are you doing that your community should know about? Invite a skeptical legislator to your first virtual day of school. Contact the media and let them know how you are being innovative in your approach to your hybrid or fully remote plan. Press releases, media clips, and virtual open houses can reshape the narrative regarding charter schools. The NC Association for Public Charter Schools can assist in this area if you need it.
The bottom line
There are some events that definitively establish the end of an old era and the start of a new, and the coronavirus pandemic certainly qualifies. Charter schools that fully embrace all of the above will position and empower themselves to lead the way in education. After all, while enduring a crisis is certainly unwelcome, wasting one is wholly unforgivable.
Nicky Smith is CEO Carolina Digital Phone – Helping Business, Government, Schools move communications (phones/video/chat) to a reliable cloud solution.
Rhonda Dillingham is a former educator and the current Executive Director of the NC Association for Public Charter Schools, the primary state advocacy and support organization for charter schools in North Carolina.