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Editor’s Note: For this CHARTER EDtalk, our Charter School Capital Client Services Director, Marci Phee, and our CMO, Janet Johson, sat down with Nick Driver, Head of Development at the Charter School Management Corporation (CSMC) to provide charter school resources and information around working with a back-office provider. Check out the short video to learn how back office providers like CSMC can help charter schools get up and running, measure school financial and academic performance, and which tools schools might be able to use to get more transparency for their boards of directors.
Janet Johnson (JJ): Hi and welcome to Charter Ed Talk. I’m Janet Johnson with Charter School Capital, and today we’re very excited to have Nick Driver here with us, who is head of development for Charter School Management Corporation (CSMC). And Marci Phee who is Director of Client Services for Charter School Capital. Thank you so much for joining us today. Marci, I’m gonna let you talk to Nick about his services and what you guys do for charter schools around the country.
Marci Phee (MP): Thank you.
Nick Driver (ND): Thanks.
MP: I’ve worked with Nick and his organization for a few years, so this is a happy conversation.
MP: We at CSC are doing a campaign called We Love Charter Schools. Can you tell us why you love charter schools?
ND: Absolutely. So thank you first, for inviting me, for that question. I started off as a charter school advocate – as a parent advocate – when my son was going through kindergarten and applying to a Charter School. I worked for eight years for The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), as an advocate for Northern California. And helped to lead the development, design, and incubation, of a couple hundred charter schools across Northern California in that position and really got a sense of how powerful the movement is from talking to parents, and especially to their students who are benefiting from some of the high-quality charter schools. So, I’ve taken that into my current position.
I’ve been with CSMC for the last seven years, doing a lot of the incubation work I did for the State Association, but also a little bit more because we are full service back office firm, that also loves its charters. But then I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it’s not just about our school partners at CSMC (we have a couple hundred) it’s about the whole movement. So we want to be helpful to the movement because we come at this as a company that’s started by people who founded charter schools themselves, not by people who are just looking to make a couple bucks.
JJ: Well, and thanks for joining us here, because you are giving back to a larger community, so we really appreciate that Nick.
MP: As a back office provider, what’s the most time-consuming aspect of bringing on a new school?
ND: So there are two kinds of new schools. That’s a great question. There’s a kind of school that is much easier to take on as a new client—a school that’s already been in existence for a couple of years. Typically, what my division does in new school development, is helps incubate new schools. So a “new school” client, that’s also a new school, is exponentially harder. Because even though they’re typically lead by educators, and in some cases they’ve worked at other charter schools, they are typically new to the role of being an Executive Director that’s starting up a new school. That’s a very specific skill set, and most people don’t have it.
So, what we find the most time consuming is the act of doing all of the things that it requires to help a school start up. As well as educating our school partners: typically, the Executive Director; the Business Manager; the Office Manager; and the school board, about how they should lead, and operate, and manage, their high performing school. It’s really hard to do that work when you’re trying to do all those things at once. We have the experience of having school leaders, as well as school founders, on our team. That has made that transition often easier for our school partners. But it’s still not easy.
MP: What advice would you give schools to reduce that onboarding time? Or to make that more efficient?
ND: We have tried, for the last 17 years, since we’ve been in existence (we were founded in 2001) to answer that very question. Not only because we know that the number one job of educators is not operations and finance, the number one job is educating kids. So we want to reduce their workload around operational startup, so they can focus on the classroom, focus on getting services, and especially high-quality education for their kids. But also because there are a lot of pain points in there that we don’t necessarily need for school leaders to become expert at. We should continue to be the experts at solving those pain points that are going to be one-off pain points if they’re only doing it once. If they’re planning on starting 10 schools, then it makes a lot of sense for school leaders to learn those skill sets themselves.
And we’ve provided a whole playbook of the operational startup pieces, as well as the legal and … Sorry, we don’t dispense legal advice, but with our legal partners—the legal or governmental best practices. So we put those all in various policies that we put before a school’s board to pass. But those are just some of the ways that we help reduce the operational startup pain. But there’s always going to be pain, and part of our job is to take away the pain points that are only one-off pain points. And help them get along with the job of educating their students.
MP: Speaking of pain points, what tools would you recommend for schools to use to measure their financial performance? Even if they’re with a BOP or without, or potentially looking to engage with a BOP, what tools would you recommend?
ND: Yeah, well we’ve spent the last 10 years putting together a portal that we believe is the best in class, called Charter Vision, that give schools 10 indicators of financial health. So we believe that tool, which measures everything from how many days cash they have on hand, to their financial ratios, especially if they’ve got facilities. Their ratios are sometimes not as healthy as they would like, or as we would like, but we believe the transparency is the number one educational tool for schools and their boards.
Being able to see all of those financial health indicators in one place, in real time, because our portal is updated every half hour with the latest and greatest of their financial numbers. That is, we believe, bar none the number one tool. There are other tools out there, happy to talk about those as well, but that’s the one we use with our clients. And we’re the ones who make sure that those numbers are up to date. So that they can see, and have full transparency, around their numbers.
MP: It sounds like the key is for the school to have transparency and to use a tool, hopefully, yours right, that gives them that sort of health and wellness check often?
MP: Having worked with hundreds of charter schools, that would be wonderful. For all the vendors, for the school leaders, for the authorizers, everybody. I like that transparency.
ND: Our portal also has other things that we know that other organizations are doing well too. So, for instance, CCSA in California has a really great tool that measures school academic performance. It’s controversial because not all schools want to be measured all the time, on their academic performance. We believe it’s vital for the same reason that we believe in financial transparency, its vital for a school board to know, or for a school management to know.
So we made a tool available, that’s used by schools to compare themselves academically, not just financially, with schools across their region, in their own district, sometimes with another charter school in the same city. And that’s been really helpful as well. We don’t employ it in the same way that the State Association does, we use it to give the schools themselves another tool to measure themselves, but we believe in measurement. We believe in data-driven instruction, and data-driven financial capability as well.
MP: Well that’s great. Thank you, Nick. And thanks for all that you’re doing for charter schools.
JJ: It sounds as if you are a back office provider who is a real partner with your schools, and an essential one. So, we really appreciate your work on behalf of the charter school community.
ND: Thanks so much. Well, we really appreciate being partners with Charter School Capital and the partnership that we’ve had over many, many years. I can’t remember how many years it’s been for Charter School Capital now, almost as many as Charter School Management. But we’ve been partners for all of those years you guys have been in existence. So thank you for that and thank you for having me.
JJ: Thanks for taking time with us.
Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!Learn More