4 Steps to Planning for Next School Year
It’s that time of the year—the mad dash to summer! The big push toward spring testing gives way to exhausted teachers, students, and administrators, each ambling toward the finish line. It is then time to rejuvenate, in hope of becoming whole for the next school year to begin it all again. As an administrator, spring is a delicate balancing act. Keeping an exhausted staff and student body motivated to finish strong while looking ahead to the next school year can be a challenge.
All time is valuable, and any preparation that can be done now will only help as spring gives way to summer, and then summer quickly turns to back to a new school year. What can be done now to make next year EVEN better than the last? To tackle this question, I pulled from my own experiences as a principal as well as drew from conversations with other administrators. The responses were pretty consistent and tended to focus on four key areas: data, scheduling, budgeting, and staffing. While the ideas and processes may vary, the themes remain the same.
1. Know your data
Assessment data, while valuable, is just one consideration when it comes to planning. Data can come to us in many ways and can inform a variety of decisions. Assessment data is great to identify instructional shortcomings and perhaps to use in preparation and staffing decisions, but there is so much more to a school. Assessment data only tells one story.
When we talk data, don’t get caught up in only using formal data. Take the time to reflect on all aspects of your school year while it is fresh in everyone’s mind. Start conversations, initiate focus groups, and talk to parents. One of the most valuable things that can be done at the end of the school year is to survey students and teachers. What did they like? What didn’t they like? What were their motivators? Their stressors? Where did they need more support? What was perceived as wasted time? Knowing this information will help as you begin planning. If another school had success in an area you would like to improve, reach out to that school and see how it accomplished this success. Assessment data is the key to improvement, but that data doesn’t always come easily. You will need take it upon yourself to gather data. Check out this blog for tips on how to get the most out of your student data this spring!
2. Plan scheduling ahead of time
Mr. Scot Aden, a middle school principal in Cherokee, Iowa, says much of his energy this time of year is focused on schedules: “How many sections? How will I organize the master schedule? Where do my teachers go?”
While scheduling will always need tweaking in the fall, having a foundation set now will save you a ton of headaches. Your data can help you drive this as well. If you have gaps or needs for remediation, this is your chance to make adjustments. Take a look at your incoming students, and decide how you can best support them. Despite the use of technology, this process is never easy, and it requires a human touch. It will need to be revisited many times, so getting a head start is imperative. (Adjusting to a block schedule next year? Check out these tips!)
3. Follow the money
Budgeting is also crucial, but not in the way you might think. As most principals know, very little of the budget is determined at the building level. We are given our constraints from the district and state. We do, however, have the ability and responsibility to be good stewards with our building funds. Mr. Aden explains, “At this point of the year, we are trying to balance what we have left in our budget to get to the end of the year and trying to make sure we are responsible with the taxpayers’ money”.
The year-end spend-down should include furniture orders that may need to be made in preparation for the upcoming school year, as well as any curricular needs that may require school funds. Grants and funding sources should also be reviewed and renewed when possible. If you have funding sources from external entities, you will want to look at any rules or regulations on how or when that money can (and should) be spent. While reviewing all of these details, keep in mind any initiatives that may require funds. Is there any current legislation that will be impacting your budget and require preparation and planning, such as Perkins legislation? This is a big job; do your best to wrap up the current school year and make sure that you are setting yourself up for success in the next.
The federal funding landscape can be tricky to navigate. That’s why we created this quick guide to help you make the most of the federal funds your district has access to. Use this guide to understand common use cases of funds, how they can be allocated, and how Edmentum solutions align.
4. Make informed hiring decisions
Spring is also the time of the year when hiring takes place. People retire, needs change, and priorities shift, and you want to be well-prepared for all eventualities. As an administrator, these decisions are yours to make. However, no decision is made in isolation. This is where you can revisit your data, both formal and informal. If you have academic gaps to fill, then you may want to hire for a specific subject or grade or shuffle positions among your current staff. Many teachers may express that they need a change or have uncovered a new strength or interest. This is an easy way to improve the school culture and address needs at the same time.
I remember a specific case where I was brought in to address concerns in an upper elementary math section. The data showed that, academically, the students were very successful. If I had stopped there, I would have kept things as they were and moved on to other hiring needs. However, after conducting a teacher panel and student survey, it became obvious that there was an issue. The teacher was burnt out after teaching the same grade and subject for 11 years. The teacher needed a change. She knew it, and the students did too. At the same time, a lower elementary teacher retired and left a hole in my staff. She was the driving force behind the foundational math content in the building. It wasn’t an obvious decision to move someone down to a lower grade level, but it ended up being a great switch and positively impacted the entire building in the following school year.
All the administrators I spoke with all took a similar approach to new hiring. Set up a panel you trust to help with the process. Include counselors, assistant principals, teachers, and potentially even a parent and a student. The panel should be reflective of your needs as well as the diversity of your school and community. Don't forget about the importance of retention, too!
Mr. Aden also mentions that it is imperative to keep an eye on trends while you are planning and hiring especially. For example, he says, “Social and emotional learning is really big right now in school. Building the relationships with students and providing enough mental health services is vital.” Looking for experience and expertise in trending issues will help strengthen your staff and support district and school initiatives.
Many things can be done to make your back-to-school stress a little less. Now is the time to put those pieces in place. Data, scheduling, budgeting, and hiring are all areas that will give you a leg up on the upcoming school year. Those with the most success don’t go into things blindly; they are constantly evaluating challenges, successes, and areas for improvement and growth. This doesn’t only happen once a year; it is a continuous process.
Use resources that are easily available like school surveys, Google Forms, and educator forums such as Edmentum’s Educator Network. You can never get it all done, but you can set yourself up nicely for the next school year!
This blog was originally published May 2019 and has been updated.