Life Cycle Renewal for Charter Schools


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Life Cycle Renewal for Charter Schools

  1. 1. Life Cycle Renewal for Charter Schools 4 STABILITY 3 5 GROWTH STAGNATION Critical Transitions 2 6 DECLINE OPENING 1 RENEWAL 7B 7A PLANNING CLOSURE Peter Hilts & Doug Hering: The Classical Academy Colorado Springs, Colorado Charter schools pass through a series of predictable life cycles or phases. Each phase has distinct characteristics. Each phase has unique challenges Some phases are separated by critical transitions. The phases are sequential, but not absolute. Recognizing the current phase allows school leaders to make better decisions about personnel, planning and program adjustments.
  2. 2. Life Cycles in Charter Schools Planning Phase Stagnation Phase 1 5 PLANNING STAGNATION Gateway Red Tape Crisis 2 6 Opening Phase Decline Phase DECLINE OPENING Leadership Crisis Survival Crisis RENEWAL Growth Phase 7A 7B 3 CLOSURE GROWTH Delegation Crisis Closure Renewal Phase Phase Stability 4 STABILITY The sequential phases in the life cycle of a charter school constitute a type of “punctuated equilibrium.” The school finds a steady state in each phase. Internal and external factors change the conditions around the growing school. The steady state of each phase becomes unsteady, leading to a transition. Some transitions are critical, and take the form of a crisis. Managing critical transitions is key to sustainable growth.
  3. 3. Planning and Gateway 1 PLANNING Visionary Leadership Evangelistic Zeal Irrational Optimism Minimal Viability During the planning and pre-operational phase, an inspirational vision is the most important factor. Founders, volunteers and early board members are attracted by the vision of the school and the personal charisma of the founders. A strong sense of unity and purpose turns early adopters into spontaneous and zealous evangelists for the school. Despite seemingly overwhelming odds, the founders and volunteers are confident they will succeed. Meeting the standards for minimum viability (determined by the state, district/institute, and board is the only absolute task. Receiving a charter is the signal that the school is through the first gateway and is ready for the opening phase.
  4. 4. OPENING 2 OPENING Entreprenuerial Energy Reactive Management “Jacks-of-all-Trades” Leaders are doers Unsustainable Effort During the opening phase, everyone involved seems to have limitless energy. There is no shortage of volunteers. Projects are often chaotic, but nobody minds. Management is mainly a series of reactions to new situations, needs and events. Everyone does everything. From the founders and board members to the newest hire, people pitch in based on need, not on their ability. Everyone is an active worker. The founders and board members maintain a level of involvement in the daily operations of the school. The energy level and intense effort are admirable, but cannot last.
  5. 5. The First Crisis: Leadership From volunteers to employees Outgrowing the founders Professional managers Generalists must specialize As the founders and the entrepreneurial volunteers reach the limit of their intense efforts, they begin to reduce their activity and involvement. The school needs strong leadership and management, just as the founding workers need a break. During the first crisis, the school experiences a “tipping point” as the balance of leadership and authority shifts from volunteer founders to employed staff. The school often grows to a point beyond the scope of the founding vision. Usually this creates significant tension between the “new management” and the founding stalwarts. If a genuine power struggle ensues, the school will either fire the founder(s) or fire the new manager.
  6. 6. GROWTH 3 GROWTH Increased Expertise Standardized Policies A loss of “fun spirit” Improved programs During the growth phase, staff members gain experience and expertise. As the school grows towards stability, new staff are hired with position-specific skills and experience. Practices that have proven viable are institutionalized as standard policies. Staff give more attention to consistency and precedent as they make decisions. The school begins to feel more like a business and less like a family. There is a sense that “things have changed around here.” Despite a loss of enthusiasm/energy, programs are actually improving. Staff apply their experience to refine and extend programs.
  7. 7. The Second Crisis: Delegation Decentralization Autonomy vs. Accountability Capacity over Quality During the second crisis, the school is moving from the growth phase to the stable phase. This transition requires a change in the way leadership responsibility is distributed. The skillful and charismatic leader must become adept at building the capacity and skill of others.
  8. 8. STABILITY 4 STABILITY Things just work Confidence abounds Security, not urgency Predictable order The stability phase is when the school is at peak performance. During stability, systems function properly. A sense of security has replaced the sense of urgency. The board operates in governance mode. The weeds of stagnation begin to sprout.
  9. 9. STAGNATION 5 STAGNATION Status Quo Power shifts to control Deliberate change Traditions & rituals The stagnation phase is marked by an unreasonable appreciation of the status quo. The main power center in the organization shifts decisively to the control functions such as legal, financial and human resources departments. Change, if it happens, is deliberate, planned and cautious. The culture of the organization is laden with “sacred” traditions and rituals.
  10. 10. The Third Crisis: Red Tape Procedures over productivity The“Headless Giant” An“Entrepreneurial Exodus” During the third crisis, the school has become fully institutionalized. Most problems are caused by internal systems. As external factors shift, the school fails to respond. Innovative and creative staff members flee the restrictive environment. Productivity grinds to a halt and performance slips.
  11. 11. DECLINE 6 DECLINE Institutional Nostalgia Personal Survival Rumors & Restrictions Broad Disaffection The decline phase is the most painful part of the cycle. There is a recurring sense of loss and nostalgia for “the way things used to be.” Individuals begin to focus on their personal survival. Staff members increasingly compare our school with other, more attractive options. The general malaise and disaffection bubbles over into personal attacks and rumors. The overall climate becomes stifling and constricting.
  12. 12. The Final Crisis: Survival Renewal or death? Tradition or existence? Control or freedom? Declining Enrollment During the final crisis, individuals and the school must sacrifice past success in order to keep the school functioning. The status quo and traditions that dominated stagnation and decline must be openly abandoned. The final crisis is stark. The period of decline has made it obvious that the old ways of doing things are bankrupt. The school faces declining enrollment and a revenue crisis.
  13. 13. RENEWAL RENEWAL 7A Launch new ventures Invest in training “Sharpen the saw” Serve•more•better During the renewal phase, the school “reinvents itself” by launching new programs or services, and encouraging/equipping staff to set new goals, and hit new heights in customer service. During renewal, existing programs that have declined into irrelevance may be jettisoned in favor of new approaches.
  14. 14. CLOSURE 7B CLOSURE Loss of enrollment Loss of relevance Resorption Trauma without drama At closure, the enrollment drops to the point that revenues cannot support the systems and structures build up during the growth phase. The school becomes irrelevant to the larger educational community. Resources, including buildings, staff and equipment are resorbed into the traditional school system. The closure of a school is not dramatic, but it will be traumatic.
  15. 15. Managing Cycles through “Fit to Phase” 4 STABILITY 3 5 GROWTH STAGNATION 2 6 DECLINE OPENING 1 RENEWAL 7B 7A PLANNING CLOSURE A school has different needs at each phase. Those needs show up in many areas. Resources Leadership Programs Systems
  16. 16. Resource Needs of Specific Phases Equipping the school 2 Establishing minimal infrastructure OPENING Save every penny Upgrade existing systems Refine HR–especially compensation 3 Develop induction programs GROWTH Train, learn and assess RENEWAL Support team performance 7A Collaborate and solicit feedback
  17. 17. Leadership Needs of Specific Phases 2 Decisive, reactive, instinctive OPENING Innovative and entrepreneurial Diplomatic and political 4 Polished and inspirational STABILITY Willing to challenge assumptions “Outsider perspective” 6 No deference to tradition DECLINE Courage
  18. 18. Program Needs of Specific Phases Meet the minimum 2 Let demand drive supply OPENING Stay basic Revalue the vision 4 Planned abandonment STABILITY Set “BHAG’s” Fiddle with program links Switch program leaders/teachers 5 Benchmark against best practices STAGNATION
  19. 19. Systems Needs of Specific Phases Use it up 2 Wear it out OPENING Make it do Build to last Recruit professional expertise 3 Support vision with systems GROWTH Smash the monolith RENEWAL Give autonomy & accountability 7A Retire the dinosaurs
  20. 20. Life Cycles Resources Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It by Ichak Adizes The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where You Are, Where You're Going, and What to Expect When You Get There by Judith Simon NonProfit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for NonProfit Capacity by Susan Kenny Stevens Navigating the Organizational Lifecycle by Paul M. Connolly
  21. 21. Life Cycle Renewal for Charter Schools 4 STABILITY Peter Hilts & Doug Hering 3 5 The Classical Academy GROWTH STAGNATION Critical Colorado Springs, Colorado Transitions 2 6 DECLINE OPENING 1 RENEWAL 7B 7A Presentation available at PLANNING CLOSURE Visit for more on charter school life cycles. Charter schools pass through a series of predictable life cycles or phases. Each phase has distinct characteristics. Each phase has unique challenges Some phases are separated by critical transitions. The phases are sequential, but not absolute. Recognizing the current phase allows school leaders to make better decisions about personnel, planning and program adjustments.