Four Keys to Driving a Successful Change Management Strategy

Measuring the success of your change management initiative is critical in determining its effectiveness. Change management in education can be very difficult, whether you’re at a single-site charter school or a large traditional district. Bi Vuong, the former deputy CFO of the School District of Philadelphia (which she called “the District”), spoke at Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Summit. Vuong, now the director of Proving Ground at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, shared her own experience defining desired outcome measures and identifying the leading indicators necessary to drive the District’s strategy and improve enrollment.

To drive their change management initiative, the School District of Philadelphia established the following process to accelerate the transition and monitor progress against intended outcomes:

  1. Analyze district data to pinpoint exactly where the problems exist

  2. Develop a strategy that clearly addresses the problem

  3. Identify key outcome measures to define success

  4. Conduct rapid cycles of analysis to measure progress and refine the strategy

The School District of Philadelphia executed on this process to focus strategically on increasing enrollment at higher performing schools.

In 2014, the District had:

  • fewer than 50 percent of students reading at grade level by third grade
  • graduation rates were below 70 percent
  • closed twenty-four schools within one year
  • seen its enrollment decline by 60,000 students within the last twenty years

Vuong, who served at the District for over five years and most recently as its deputy chief financial officer said, “One of the superintendent’s goals was to get more kids college and career ready and [the other was to have] more kids reading at grade level.”  A strategy to help achieve these District-wide goals was to provide “the kids from the lowest performing schools the option of attending a higher-performing school,” Vuong said.

“We had high-performing schools with [available] space. We had students in underperforming schools.” To change this fact, the District more closely aligned its budget allocations to student enrollment. The number of teachers and the school’s budget were dependent upon the number of students enrolled.

Over the course of two years, the District continued to review and refine its processes to create alignment across the District, including:

  • adjusting enrollment dates to accept students earlier in the school year
  • developing a data structure with key stakeholders from the IT, HR, finance, and enrollment teams
  • monitoring student enrollment to measure how many students were applying to schools, getting accepted, enrolling, and actually showing up on the first day of school
  • adjusting a school’s budget based on the projected number of students who were expected to enroll on the first day of school

DSC_0511With the District’s enrollment strategy and technology tools in place, principals had easier access to data and could optimize their student acceptance decisions. Due in part to this initiative, the District had increased enrollment in higher performing schools between school year 2014–2015 and school year 2015–2016 by more than 7,000 students.

It took a year and a half for the School District of Philadelphia to develop, implement, and refine its change management initiative. According to Vuong, the key takeaways for defining and optimizing this change were:

  • deliberate planning to align cross-functionally with IT, student placement, and HR
  • collaboration, capacity building, and training to get people used to the new system and process
  • data, data, data. Vuong said, “We (the central office staff) used the exact same data that our principals saw and talked to them about it. [Our data] was very quick, very reliable, and very accessible.”