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Competing Schools: Staying Lean, Innovative, and Engaged

In today’s competitive business environment, technology is helping companies do more with less. Automation and instant communication have enabled both the smallest startups and the largest conglomerates to become more efficient.

Schools districts face the same challenge. To stay relevant in the face of increased competition, school districts need to find ways to be more efficient, transparent, and engaging, says school innovation expert and author Tom Vander Ark in a recent LinkedIn post.

We’ve talked about the need for schools to take a business-oriented approach to branding and customer service. Vander Ark takes that idea a step further by outlining ways schools can assess their organizational structure and operations to ensure they’re using their limited resources in the most effective ways.

Of course, there is no apples-to-apples comparison between business and education. The mission of America’s public schools is unlike any other institution in our country. But that doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t keep important business principles in mind.

As districts take on more autonomy and responsibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), here’s three questions they should ask themselves—based on Vander Ark’s advice—to ensure they stay lean, innovative, and competitive.

Is your district strategy coherent and clear?

Strong leadership begins with setting a clear vision for your schools that every member of your community—teachers, staff, students, and parents—understands.

Writes Vander Ark:

“District leaders should be clear about their current strategy. Every school leader should have a clear picture of how things should work and who makes what decision so that they can create role and goal clarity for teachers.”

Engaging your entire community early and often will help you gain buy-in.

Is your district lean enough to compete with other education options?

Vander Ark says districts must provide the best possible learning experience to students, or risk losing out to new school options—charters, private schools, etc. That means becoming leaner and more efficient.

While Vander Ark encourages smaller administrative staffs and even school consolidation in some cases, improving your district’s inbound and outbound communication might be a good starting point to boost efficiency.

Districts must ensure they’re addressing student and parent needs, so families don’t have a reason to look elsewhere.

Is your district promoting or restricting innovation?

School choice advocates are quick to tout charter schools’ and private schools’ ability to innovate. District public schools, they say, are too stuck in their ways to experiment with new styles of teaching and learning.

Vander Ark says public schools must make innovation and creativity a regular part of their practice if they want to stay competitive.

“Smart districts find a way to say yes,” he says. “They inspire, incubate and intermediate innovation, or work with partners that do.”

While technology alone can’t support innovation, schools have more access than ever to affordable technology that can inspire staff and students’ creativity. Technology can also open the lines of communication, so parents and students can easily share their ideas about how to make their schools better.

What do you think of Vander Ark’s advice for more efficient schools? How are you making your district leaner and more innovative? Tell us in the comments.