Monday, February 15, 2016

A Strategy for Agora Cyber Charter School in 7 Steps

From Agora Cyber Facebook
I thought I was finished with Agora Cyber and yet the emails have continued to pour in from parents, teachers, and former parents and teachers. The ones from the current teachers are most painful. Their desire expressed to me is to serve the students, yet they are in a daze after the way the layoffs were handled.

In each email they ask me "what should we do?" Two days ago I wrote a blog that shared what Agora needs to do moving forward: Repair, Restore, and Rethink. However, in honor of those teachers and staff members who have written to me, I did want to offer the Agora Cyber leadership a 7-step strategy with the recommendation that this be treated as a crisis management problem.

Granted, in a crisis management plan, there are typically four areas (Mitigation & Prevention, Preparedness, Response, & Recovery) that are covered. Yet, with the crisis already having occurred, we can only focus now on response and then recovery. So, with that in mind:

1. Stop all advertising immediately.

There is no need to actively recruit new students into Agora at this moment. Cease all advertising until this school year has ended.

2. Shift advertising money to teachers.

Granted, I do not know how much Agora has left in the advertising budget (if any) but whatever the amount is should be shifted away from marketing, and placed into a pool for all remaining teachers in order to provide them some type of bonus at the end of the year (or now if possible).

3. Conduct in-person and online sessions for parents and students.

Agora leadership needs to be out in front of the parents and students (in person and online), answering the tough questions, taking responsibility for their actions (and lack of communication), and working hard to repair and restore (as mentioned in my previous blog). Make it as easy as possible for the parents and students to attend by being where they are.

4. Focus on retention.

Stop worrying about next year and the number of new students. Instead, turn all attention to building a remarkable learning experience for existing students and parents. The number one marketing priority now and through the end of the year is existing student population.

5. Focus on teachers and staff.

Unfortunately, what has been done is done. Agora leadership must now turn full attention to making sure existing teachers and staff not only are supported properly, but feel they are supported. Leadership takes full care of teachers and staff, and then teachers and staff are able to take care of students and parents properly.

Stop writing editorials to Gov Wolf and start focusing on taking care of teachers and staff. Determine to walk the talk.

6. Walk the talk.

From this day forward be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable. As I mentioned in my previous post, lack of trust is now the prime problem and talk will not rebuild it. It must be accomplished by actions -- daily actions, every second of every day. The walk must match the talk. Any deviation, however slight, will be magnified at this point in time.

Authenticity requires honesty. Transparency requires the leadership to allow parents and students to see behind-the-scenes. Vulnerability requires the leadership to take responsibility, and act humbly.

Don't gloss over or ignore the elephant in the room. Acknowledge it, accept responsibility for the way it was mishandled, and then share with teachers, parents, and students that it is understood by the leadership that what matters most now is actions, not words.

7. Pay attention to the details.

Answer the phone. Return phone calls. Ensure IT support is there. Allow parents to vent. Allow teachers to express their concern. Throw pride away and listen to the wants being expressed. Go above and beyond to take care of your parents, your students, your teachers, and your staff.

Details matter. Paying attention to them is where trust can be re-established in order to build upon. Forgetting them can put all of the other steps in jeopardy.

Remember, right now it is the Response of the leadership at Agora that will determine the ability to Recover.

It will not be an easy road back to stability. The journey is worth it though.

Oh, by the way, also make preparations for the media investigation and the investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) -- both are likely to occur.

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