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Another Year, Another School Plan?

Using the school planning process to create strategic school designs

Across the country, school leadership teams are in the midst of the annual planning process: the yearly ritual of creating next year’s master schedule, planning for teacher vacancies, and shifting teacher teams. Some school leaders use their student performance data and information on teacher exits to tweak last year’s plan—adjusting sections and homerooms to match year-to-year enrollment changes.

However, for principals in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS), the annual planning process is also a key opportunity for reflection: on each school’s fundamental goals, student needs, and teacher capacity, and how current resources can be reallocated to meet those ever changing parameters. This is a key step in strategic school design—and must begin with identifying each school’s goals and priorities.

And this year, ERS has provided every school leader in CMS with a new tool called a School Resource Use Report, created from data supplied by CMS. Each 3-5 page report synthesizes key data on teacher effectiveness, student performance, teacher load, and use of time and money across courses. Each school leader reviews the report and a set of guiding questions along with his or her Community Superintendent, to better understand their student needs and teacher capacity.

These reports are not evaluative of schools. Rather, they serve as an opportunity to have a data-backed conversation on how well resources are currently aligned with goals and to identify areas for reorganizing resources to better align to student needs.

For example, a principal who has identified 9th grade math as a priority may reflect on the guiding questions and the School Resource Use Report to find:

Sample Guiding Question

School Resource Use Report Insight

Are we balancing teacher expertise on teacher teams?

The 10th grade math team is comprised of all highly-rated teachers, while 9th grade is currently lacking expertise 

Are teachers assigned strategically to the neediest students?

The expert teachers in 9th grade tend to work with the most advanced students

Are students provided sufficient time and individual attention in the subject where they have the highest needs?


9th grade students do not spend any more time in Math than they do in other subjects. 

9th grade class sizes are particularly large, especially relative to elective class sizes 

In other words, the data revealed that teacher assignment has not been deliberate. To respond to that finding, the team may choose to decrease class sizes in 9th grade math, while raising them in some elective courses to increase individual attention to students. With some changes to the master schedule, this school leader has a solution that reflects identified priorities.

When asked about the value of the School Resource Use Reports, one CMS principal explained, “The data is already organized where I can think about the whole school in one view. It helps me engage with how I can alter my master schedule to be more strategic. Answering the guiding questions and connecting the schedule back to my students is what makes a difference.”

How other districts can evolve their annual planning process

Just as more and more schools are using student data to guide what to teach in the next lesson, districts can help their school leaders make the best decisions for the next year by providing and guiding a conversation around data, so all schools better align people, time, and money with their most urgent goals.

Here are some steps to get started:

  • Keep the objective in mind: The reports should tell provide insight regarding what a school is trying to accomplish and how they believe they can get there. The reports are meant to be a conversation starter, not necessarily an evaluative measure.
  • Think critically about your district context, and consider:
    • What are the key levers that principals control? 
    • What are the resource changes we want schools to make?
    • What are the guiding questions that will target those areas of change? 
    • What is the data/information schools need to inform change in this area?
  • Focus on data quality: Often, the first step to create effective data reports is simply ensuring your data is accurate. Standardize your processes for collecting and storing many different types of data. For example, you may want to create course codes that apply to all students in the same classroom at the same time, so those classes are easier to track.
  • Gather your data: There are many ways to slice and dice data, and no one formula for success. A good place to start is data on:
    • Course enrollment
    • Teacher salary
    • Teacher evaluation
    • Student performance

By linking that information together in different ways, you can see if you are implementing strategies that prioritize teaching effectiveness, targeting individual attention, maximizing time, and leveraging non-instructional spending.

How a school is using its resources—people, time, money—should reflect its priorities. Whether you’re part of a school leadership team or working in a central function to support schools, reflect on how you can help ensure the planning process provides an opportunity to make meaningful realignments of resources to school needs.

To start with a self-assessment of where your school stands vis a vis its use of resources, try our quick self-assessment tool, School Check. You can then learn more about how to organize people, time, and money to meet the needs of your students in the School Design Resource Guide: Leveraging Talen, Time, and Money.

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