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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Franchising Success Across a District

Mike Barton

Chief Student Achievement Officer
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Two boys at a table looking at cards printed with various items to determine want versus need

Who has the time and energy to lead two campuses? We're finding out as we watch the franchise concept that's being piloted in Nevada's Clark County School District impact over 2800 students in four elementary schools, all under the guidance of two strong leaders.

Two seasoned, determined principals have embraced the concept of franchising with open minds. Franchising is a practice that allows a single principal to lead multiple campuses concurrently. While this reform may continue to expand, those sitting in my seat must determine or "bottle" why these leaders are so effective at leading multiple schools.

The complex bottling or capturing process with this initiative finds those of us in the central office struggling to define the main ingredient that makes this successful. Preliminary attempts to describe why these leaders lead well are part of the ongoing work initiated by the Clark County School District Instruction Unit. The work, still in development and continuously evolving, includes preparing a publication highlighting the core tenets of franchising schools.

The 4 Core Tenets

If a district is interested in the franchise model, what factors or basic tenets should be considered with the selection process? How may student achievement increase with the reform? The following tenets are worth contemplating if you have leaders aspiring to take this on.

1. School Stakeholders Crave True Leaders

Talent matters in any successful organization, and students and teachers deserve the best and brightest minds in the principal's role. They deserve commitment to the school and a passion for the daily work. These attributes are important and often exhibited, but students, parents, and educators want a leader who also inspires and enlightens.

Franchising is not for the faint of heart. Our current franchise principals are not at all shy, and brazen enough to take on whatever obstacles they encounter. The teachers at franchise schools understand the expectations for their principal's daily performance, may describe this person as incredibly passionate, and proclaim how he or she is always willing to battle against the red tape inherent in any system. Franchise leaders are strong enough to handle business within the confines of the school, and rarely seek advice from central office personnel. These leaders embrace the district resources provided and use them appropriately, but they're also ambitious enough to build the community and business partnerships that yield more human, fiscal resources. These are the leaders who make things happen!

2. Flexibility Matters

Autonomy with budgeting, scheduling, resources, and other site-based decisions must be part of a franchise strategy. Select the true leaders who are ready to take on the system, and grant them the autonomy to lead. The franchise concept provides for flexible budgeting and finds ways to allow even more autonomy for both schools. A future goal is providing zero-based budgeting processes within the franchise model to break away from outdated, across-the-board resource allocation methods. Creativity and flexibility are two guiding principles of the franchise model.

Here are some examples of what might happen in the spirit of flexibility:

  • Office personnel may be assigned tasks that will benefit both campuses.
  • Assistant principals may split time between multiple campuses.
  • A parent liaison may be hired to increase parental engagement within the community.

The idea is diverting the majority of decision making to the school leaders who work with talent on their campuses to promote classroom autonomy. Experience shows that our best and brightest need to be empowered, appreciated for outside-the-box thinking, and rewarded with ownership of decisions impacting schools.

3. Results Drive All Plans

Action plans extending the reach of a successful principal must produce measurable results for the students being served. The leaders selected in our district experienced extremely successful results at their original flagship campus. While central office personnel tapped the inaugural franchise principals for this new role, it's understood that other principals interested in leading two or more schools must provide a coherent plan conveying how achievement will increase over time, particularly at the campuses added to the original flagship school.

Principals with strong achievement gains will rise to the top of the list for consideration, and will be encouraged to develop a possible plan. Having the prospective franchise principals describe in elaborate detail what worked at the flagship campus, and how these organizational systems, structures, and practices can transfer to another underperforming campus, will be the focus of the application process. The added campuses to the flagship school have been underperforming academically for several years.

Principals interested in franchising schools but who have not yet moved the needle will be encouraged to focus on the traditional single-site model and apply at a future date.

4. Leadership Pipeline Expansion Is Needed

Entry-level administrators working side by side with franchise principals will be ready to lead. Is an assistant principal at a franchised campus ready for a principal gig? In Las Vegas, a town of gambling, we will take the over rather than the under. Assistant principals working with strong leaders are on the fast track to serving as effective principals sooner rather than later.

Exposure to leaders with successful past performance, tenacious practices to get the work done regardless of barriers, and a commitment to refining learning structures that drive student achievement will decrease the assistant principals' learning curve.

Will the entry-level administrators left on their own at one of the two campuses get what is needed? The model promotes effective coaching and mirrors best practices. The guided practice and scaffolding occurs during most interactions between principal and assistant principal in a traditionally-led elementary school. However, the independent practice, which our future principals require, is far more actionable on franchise campuses.

Potential Future

Fast forward several years beyond Sin City's franchise pilot, and you may see multiple campuses with a single principal whose mindset is absent of the bureaucratic obstacles often associated with large school systems. Think about a potential core group of leaders influenced and nourished professionally as a result of flexible organizational practices baked in the franchise model.

Additionally, imagine flagship school practices influencing multiple schools that were previously underperforming. All of this is occurring with a focus on the leadership pipeline that grows larger and more effective, impacting not only franchise schools but also traditionally configured schools across the system. This is a win-win for not only Las Vegas, but for all! Take those odds and watch our students improve drastically over time!

This blog post is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Walter Bracken STEAM Academy Elementary School.

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Mike Barton

Chief Student Achievement Officer

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