by Namratha Bharadwaj and Terry Denoyer
PK-12 district offices, often referred to as central offices, play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth execution of business processes within a district. The “business” functions of the district office are the backbone of the school district, responsible for a multitude of crucial tasks – from student registration and enrollment to staffing and accounting; from grading and transcripts to customer support; and from special education administration to vendor invoicing.
However, many district offices today still rely heavily on manual and inefficient processes, which hinder their ability to support schools effectively. Tedious paperwork, data entry, and manual record-keeping processes consume valuable time and resources. These inefficiencies can lead to mistakes and delays in mission-critical tasks, such as enrolling students and hiring teachers. Our work at Thru often explores the challenges posed by onerous processes in K-12 district offices and the transformative benefits of streamlining these operations.
Take an example from HR. The Frontline Research & Learning Institute found that 3,000 HR-related forms are completed per average school district per school year, which equates to 16 forms per day on average. According to the Center for American Progress, the average district employs less than two HR management practitioners. This results in HR staff spending a majority of their time on paperwork, rather than strategic talent management.
Inefficient processes have long been the norm in K-12 district offices, introducing challenges that hinder the effectiveness of the entire district. Most district business processes have not been designed, so much as cobbled together. Federal, state and local laws dictate procedures and rules. Policy may be developed in reaction to an event or political climate (with little thought to long-term ramifications). Workflow rules and procedures may change unexpectedly, often due to turnover in senior leadership and overhauls. Settlement terms from a lawsuit can even play a factor in the steps of a district’s business workflow.
The problem is compounded by ill-equipped information systems. Districts rarely have all the information they need in one place. Most often the data a district leader might need lies in a data system over here, a spreadsheet on someone’s laptop over there, an extract from a vendor’s system here, and a napkin sketch there. To make matters worse, if the data can be patched together, district staff often then have to deal with errors and omissions, typically the result of error-prone data entry. Commonly, data entry by people with other full-time jobs to do, (e.g., school psychologists). This of course obstructs all efforts to make data-driven decisions.
People, processes and systems must be in alignment to operationalize the business of the district. Automating routine tasks like data entry, record-keeping, and document management can significantly reduce errors and processing times, allowing district staff to focus on more strategic initiatives. To start, district leadership must be ready to embrace organizational change and support the redesign effort.
Recommendations for Improvement
Transforming a process or series of processes from inefficient operations to streamlined workflows should be managed as a project. The role should report to an executive in the central office, (e.g., Deputy Superintendent) so as to facilitate necessary changes and overcome obstacles. In our work, we advise our clients to:
Identify a resource to facilitate the improvement effort: Sometimes this role is called a “Business Analyst,” but it primarily needs to be someone with communication skills that can gather information and envision improvements to workflows. Empower the role to work with stakeholders across the district community.
Assess the current state: Engage with the ecosystem around the business process. Identify stakeholders that may be impacted by changes to the process and interview them to understand the current process and pain points. Gather other pertinent information and document the findings and/or a flow chart of the current process.
Socialize the pain points and collaborate on solutions: Validate the findings of the current state and use them to envision a better process. Collaborate with stakeholders to identify opportunities to streamline or otherwise improve specific workflows, (e.g., posting a teacher job description). Document and communicate new workflows, as applicable.
District leaders can solve real problems in their community by making changes to business processes that no longer serve the school district. By addressing the inefficiencies of outdated and broken processes, districts can allocate resources more effectively and impact student outcomes more positively. The recommendations above can offer a roadmap for districts looking to modernize and improve their operations for the benefit of students and staff alike.
This is the first in a series of posts we're planning about the paths school districts can take to modernize their "business" processes, including the implications and challenges in doing so. Namratha Bharadwaj and Terry Denoyer are researching and authoring our thoughts in this space. They can be reached via the contact information below or on Linkedin.