Posts by

Linda Kraft

Education, K-12, Opinion

New Mexico Educators Look to “Move the Needle”

Data-Driven Instruction Relies on Sound Data Practices

School reform from SB-1 and SB-96 have made financial forecasting and scenario planning for schools in New Mexico more important than ever. Regrettably, New Mexico recently ranked 51 out of 50 states and Washington D.C., but the state is “doubling down” to reverse course and improve achievement outcomes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, the executive branch, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), and statewide educators and administrators are working to collaborate on a critical initiative referred to as “Moving the Needle.” This follows a much publicized lawsuit — the Martinez/Yazzie Consolidated Lawsuit — following which the PED acknowledged “the Court’s ruling that ‘no education system can be sufficient for the education of all children unless it is founded on the sound principle that every child can learn and succeed[.]’”

According to one recent news article:

Along with a proposed $4.3 billion support package from the state Public Education Department, lawmakers are mulling several pieces of legislation for the session, including revamping graduation requirements and increasing the amount of time students spend in school.

Those proposals, lawmakers and education officials have said, aim to improve student outcomes and close gaps for “at-risk” students, tackle statewide educator vacancies and better support schools and their leaders.

If New Mexico is going to be successful at “moving the needle,” it will be critical to measure all of the contributing factors that can impact student achievement — financial and educational alike.

Failing Grades for the Nation’s Report Card?

Educators and school administrators nationwide are still reacting and responding to the release of the “Nation’s Report Card,” issued by the ​​National Assessment of Educational Progress in late 2022. What came to few observers’ surprise was that achievement scores for both mathematics and reading declined significantly during and following the pandemic. Educators are now working hard to reverse those trends and get student outcomes back to pre-pandemic levels.

The good news is that there are concerted efforts like New Mexico’s Move the Needle initiative to counter the learning losses by teachers, administrators, superintendents, assessment professionals and curriculum directors alike. There truly is a “we’re all in this together” spirit that’s noticeable and admirable.

This unified front faces significant obstacles that have also emerged in this same timeframe: a national teacher shortage crisis and an overwhelming amount of work, compliance obligations, reporting duties, and even an avalanche of data to sift through.

Districts are now beginning to discover that less truly can be more — that simplifying and consolidating resources and technology can actually reveal clearer pathways to better educational outcomes, without adding more to our overworked partners in student performance.

What Has Been Done to Address Third-Grade Literacy and Numeracy Rates in New Mexico?

Two of the most often cited metrics for educational progress are third-grade literacy rates and third-grade numeracy (mathematics) rates. Seen as key indicators of future graduation and dropout rates, these proficiency scores are key prognosticators of even distant outcomes, such as incarceration rates and a community’s economic health. When New Mexico officials speak of “moving the needle,” these are two of the most monitored statistics they will consider as success or failure.

Committed to addressing this issue ongoing, educators and administrators in New Mexico have implemented and are focusing on a number of strategies to improve third-grade literacy rates and numeracy, including:

  • Early intervention: Schools are providing early intervention services to students who are struggling with reading and math. These services may include tutoring, small group instruction, or one-on-one support. Munetrix has made early intervention one of our top priorities as a company.
  • Data-driven instruction: Schools are using data to identify students who are struggling and to target their instruction accordingly. This data may come from state tests, progress monitoring assessments, or teacher observations.
  • Differentiated instruction: Schools are working to provide differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all learners. This means that teachers are tailoring their instruction to the individual needs of each student.
  • Family engagement: Schools are working to engage families in their children’s education. This may include providing parent workshops, sending home newsletters, or holding parent-teacher conferences.
  • Creating a culture of literacy and numeracy in schools. Many public schools in Ohio are making sure that reading and math are valued and that students are given opportunities to practice these skills throughout the day.

By implementing these strategies, schools are working to ensure that all students have the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. But one area in particular that sticks out to me is this notion of “data-driven instruction.”

What is Data-Driven Instruction, and How Can it “Move the Needle?”

In short, data-driven instruction involves gathering together a database of information about the students in each classroom, and using that information to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. The good news is that access to data has exploded in recent years; the bad news is that, while educators are now data-rich, many struggle with being knowledge-poor.

Too often, all of the data educators need to optimize education outcomes live in disparate silos, making it nearly impossible to access, analyze and leverage for the betterment of students. However, when combined, integrated and overlaid, what often results is that invisible becomes…visible.

We frequently use the term “braiding data,” which is an apt representation of the benefit of such an approach. Individual strings of rope in the physical realm are made much more stronger when braided together than are when used separately and alone. Your data is no different. When intertwined, integrated and interdependent, your various systems become much more than a stack — they become a powerful, complete and cohesive system that honors and accounts for all drivers and outcomes of a school’s or district’s ultimate success.

The stronger the rope, the better it will be to pull students forward and move the needle for an entire state.

Contact us to see how your school building or district can harness the power of data to improve literacy, numeracy and other educational outcomes.

Education, K-12, Opinion

Understanding Enrollment Loss in Your District

Three Tools to Help Mitigate Student Migration

School districts across the country have been challenged with decreasing enrollment numbers, in part impacted by the pandemic and alternative education options that parents explored during that time. While much of that student migration was predictably temporary, schools are still closely monitoring enrollment loss and gain in order to forecast and build scenarios for the future.

With per-pupil public funding tied so inextricably to enrollment numbers, district leadership are looking for any tools at their disposal to gain a better understanding of:

  • What are the causes of enrollment loss within the district?
  • What can the district do to reverse student attrition trends?
  • How can school districts become more “magnetic,” so that student migration is resulting in more inbound student flow than outbound.

Three Ways to Monitor and Counteract Student Migration

The challenge facing administrators and superintendents is manifold. One is increasing competition from a growing number of alternatives: private schools, student choice, home schooling, virtual academies, and so on. Another is understanding the myriad factors that are impacting such enrollment loss — some seemingly obvious and others lurking below the surface. And, third, once the drivers of enrollment loss are fully and completely understood, taking measures to counter student flight, and even perhaps reverse it.

Here are three tools that educators and administrators have at their disposal in the competition to retain and attract student families in and around their district.

1 – Student Migration Map

The first step is getting a clear picture as to where student flow is going, both in and out of the district. Seeing a visualization that demonstrates enrollment trends in pictures can help administrators and educators literally and figuratively see the big picture and the all of the individual data points that tell the complete story.

A student migration visualization is an essential tool for understanding the ebbs and flows of students going in and out of your district to help manage and forecast enrollment. Our own Student Migration Map, for example, offers these tangible benefits:

  • A collection of charts and graphs that help you understand the magnitude and trends of student gains and losses and where they are attending.
  • It provides greater granularity and understanding of the patterns associated with student movement.
  • Users can quickly define what percentage of your resident students attend in-district versus out-of-district schools.
  • This allows district leadership to inform strategies to attract students back into the district.
  • It simplifies use of resident/non-residency data for ease of tracking ebbs and flows of student movement patterns.

Once you understand the trends, you can take a data-driven approach to examining and influencing the drivers of those trends.

2 – Early Warning Module

Superintendents, educators, administrators, principals and counselors are increasingly focused on gaining greater insights into the individual student, in addition to studying building-level and district-wide trends. 

How can such a granular tool help superintendents counteract certain kinds of enrollment loss? By heading their drivers off at the pass. 

Parents and families have choices when it comes to where they live and where they send their children to school. Whether evaluating districts based on school choice or sizing up whole communities to make decisions about where to move, two of the most important data points parents will look at are graduation rates and dropout rates. They intuitively understand that the better a district scores in these metrics, the more valuable the community is as a destination to live, whether they have children to educate or not, in fact.

The all-new Munetrix Early Warning Module serves as an early detection system for children potentially at risk of falling behind their peers. If early indicators of potential at-risk students can be identified earlier, they can potentially be reversed and be neutralized as drivers of dropouts — and lead to higher graduation rates.

The robust, intuitive visualization software empowers educators, administrators and counseling professionals to view the whole child behind the myriad data points:

  • Educational Performance and Progress
  • Assessment Results
  • Social Emotional Learning Benchmarking (coming soon!)
  • Demographics and Equity in Education
  • Discipline and Behavior Data
  • Attendance and Tardiness Reports
  • Student dashboard

Rather than having to log into multiple, disconnected, disparate portals, the Early Warning Module provides a singular holistic view of each student, all in one place, enabling users to connect dots, spot trends, and detect risk early on — before it’s too late to reverse course.

There are often early indicators of future enrollment loss, as well as learning loss. Attendance, behavior, social-emotional learning challenges, home-life issues, etc., are just a few. Of course, each student is an individual — not merely an anonymous data point. Having the complete picture of any one individual pupil in the district is an emerging tool in the enrollment loss reversal toolkit.

3 – Comparative Analytics

Comparative Analytics is a method of data analysis that entails comparing a district’s own data set against those of its peers. If your school or district is truly in competition with its neighbors for students, treasure and talent, peer analysis is your competitive advantage in outperforming neighboring alternatives and reversing enrollment loss in your district.

Put simply, comparative analytics refers to the process of examining your own organization’s data and performance against those of your peers and competitors to draw more informed conclusions and to make better decisions. It’s a methodology for avoiding one of the greatest perils to critical decision-making: thinking we have all of the information we need and omitting a potentially decision-changing data set.

The good news: For schools and municipalities, the performance and budgeting data for all of your competitors and benchmarked peers is publicly available. All you have to do is go find it.

One of the most informative applications of comparative analytics is to closely examine learning loss or gains in student achievement against instructional dollars invested: gains per investment. In reviewing data in districts across the U.S., we have discovered numerous instances in which increases in instructional dollars spent do not directly correlate with student achievement gains. And vice versa: some districts that boast the highest academic performance are not necessarily those spending the most on curriculum or instruction.

If you can view your own historical data and forward-looking projections against those of neighboring entities with whom you may be competing, won’t you be able to make more confident decisions and more strategic allocations of budgets, personnel, investments and resources? Anything less, and you’re making critical decisions in a vacuum.

Control the Controllable, Manage the Manageable

As in any endeavor, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. With so much access to information, it is incumbent upon all of us to see the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. May these tools help you and your district compete in the arena of enrollment, student achievement and community health.

Mike Geers is Client Partnership Manager with Munetrix, and he can be reached at

Education, K-12, Opinion

Reversing Learning Loss: By District, By School, By Student

There is a unique challenge when it comes to addressing the causes of learning loss for the stakeholders looking to reverse the recent trends identified in the Nation’s Report Card and other assessment reports.

Superintendents are charged with overseeing and managing achievement — as well as budgeting, personnel, and a whole host of administrative responsibilities. But ask superintendents what motivates their day-to-day career objectives and they will tell you about the students they see in each and every building within their district. They know them by name. They can probably tell you who their teachers are. They are sources of both pride and legitimate concern. They are, after all, real people…not merely data points on a spreadsheet.

What’s required now is a truly collaborative and cooperative effort to stop learning loss in its tracks, reverse declining assessment scores in reading, mathematics and other subjects, and get student achievement back to pre-pandemic levels and beyond.

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

Why Municipal Leaders Are Increasingly Studying Academic Achievement Data

How to Leverage Academic Performance Analytics to Improve Economic Drivers of Community Success

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with originating the quote, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Never has that sentiment been proven more prescient than today. In fact, within less than a week’s time, I was told by three different administrators in municipal government that the best predictor of a community’s future economic success is academic performance in that community’s public schools. Specifically, third-grade reading proficiency has been found to directly correlate to the economic development and career opportunity environment of cities, townships and villages across the United States.

What more and more officials in municipal management are discovering is that there is much more to glean from merely looking at academic achievement metrics to understand the correlations between school district performance and future economic and workforce development. They are realizing that they can activate the analytics from educational outcome data and leverage it to plan for better economic outcomes to better serve the communities they live and work in.

As another famous American, Abraham Lincoln, once said, ““The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Braiding Data to Optimize Performance Analytics

At its founding, Munetrix was originally launched to provide municipalities with the metrics they need to analyze performance and make better-informed decisions and plans (hence the name, mun- paired with -trics, or Munetrix). Before long, we identified the need for school administrators and educators to visualize the data driving their decisions and future planning, and we almost immediately began to serve education users as well. To this day, Munetrix is something of a unique organization, as one of few data and performance analytics providers that serve both the municipal and education sectors.

Given the connections between educational and economic drivers, serving the entire community has become more of a necessity…and a more accurate and holistic approach to building 21st-century communities that will thrive long into the 22nd century and beyond.

The key to making this work for communities large and small is the concept of “braiding” data. This will require that communities commit to a collaborative approach to “speak a common data language.” According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The need for a common data language is analogous to the use of a common language for people and economies to share the best of ideas, products, and services. A language used exclusively by a few isolates people from the rest of what the world has to offer.

So it is with the systems, technology and data used by local governments; schools and districts; fire and police departments; economic planning departments; and state, local and federal entities throughout the public sector. If every system is speaking a different language, they can’t possibly optimally communicate, collaborate or cooperate to the greatest benefit of the communities they serve. But that represents the reality for the vast majority of communities across the U.S. — everyone working on different platforms, speaking different languages, and missing opportunities to optimize planning and future outcomes.

The term frequently used in data and performance analytics to describe the ideal paradigm is “interoperability” — the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information collaboratively. Governing bodies in education and municipal government often set standards and guidelines for interoperability, but they can be difficult and onerous to adhere to, especially for those entities still relying on more primitive data processing systems, such as spreadsheets and legacy databases.

But this is changing. And the future is not what it used to be, as a result. What does this look like in the real world and under the best-case scenario? We don’t have to hypothesize; we can learn from others already embracing this approach…

Real-Word Success and a Modern Approach to Data Visualization

As I mentioned, three different executive-level individuals in different parts of the country and in three different contexts approached me within one week with variations of this same conversation: How can we leverage early indicators of economic and workforce development by analyzing reliable predictors of future outcomes? 

It all starts with early education. By braiding school district academic performance analytics with municipal economic and other data, municipal planners and leaders can extract real intelligence to help them make both immediate critical decisions as well as better plan for the unique futures that their own communities need to realize.

For example, a school district may consider braiding transparency data with its fiscal data and with student achievement data. Or it may wish to braid academic performance data with fiscal, demographic and economic data. Overall, a community—upon adopting and achieving interoperability and a Common Data Language—can collaboratively “braid” all of their various data feeds. 

Third-grade reading proficiency data predicts high school graduation rates. High school graduation data foretells workforce success. Workforce readiness, development, outcomes and employer needs should then be analyzed and fed back into the curriculum development decisions within the district. Complete interoperability and collaboration coming full-circle.

Hobbs Municipal Schools in New Mexico had a decision to make, one that was dividing the community: Where to open a second high school, based on increasing enrollment? Had leadership made the decision in a silo, a second high school would have opened nearby, perhaps serving the community well — perhaps not. But the community chose instead to understand the economic drivers and needs of the community that the school district serves, and an interesting discovery was made: What the local economy needed was more workers with career and technical education (CTE) backgrounds. Furthermore, an analysis of the community’s educational performance data revealed a student population well-suited to pursue such careers. So, instead of building a second high school, the district leveraged that braided data to inform a decision to open a state-of-the-art CTE facility, CTECH, a $47 million facility that would allow high schoolers to learn trade skills and earn certifications for industries like construction, transportation, culinary arts and IT. 

The facility was widely embraced and opened to great fanfare, complete with an appearance from TV’s Mike Rowe (a vocal proponent of CTE curriculum), and very quickly saw near-full enrollment. Instead of a community divided, leadership came together, collaborated and made a data-informed decision to best serve the businesses and its residents at once — the community came together. The employers will have a more appropriately developed workforce, the future workforce will have greater opportunities for career advancement, and the school district will become the envy of its regional peers. Win-win-win.

To Serve Your Community You Must Know Your Community

Elsewhere, multiple studies have shown that there is a growing mismatch between skills and education of graduates and the worker demand from the community’s employer base — one in California and another looking at global data — to cite only two of many I’ve recently come across. The latter was presented in the context of an article entitled, “Call for a New Era of Higher Ed–Employer Collaboration.” But if communities are not sharing data between the employment sector and the educational sector, how can leaders identify those mismatches in advance, let alone do something to correct them?

The best way to facilitate that community-wide collaboration is to get the entire community on the same page — our educators, our government leaders, our citizens, our businesses, and all of our stakeholders. It starts with a rigid commitment to data literacy and doesn’t end until there is complete collaboration and total transparency.

The success stories are starting to emerge. What does your community’s future look like? As Lincoln said, the best way to predict it is to create it.

If you’d like to see how all of your community’s data threads can effectively intertwine, how easy it can be to adopt a Common Data Language, and why all of this is so critical to the future of your community, let’s talk.

Fiscal Health, Municipal

Data Management and Analytics Software for Municipalities

The Ongoing Evolution of Data Management and Analytics Software for Cities, Villages and Townships

Advanced data management and analytics software for municipalities has evolved beyond mere data visualization—which is, of course, critical—to encompass robust yet intuitive performance analytics solutions as well. For it’s one thing to be able to contextualize data through charts and graphs, but quite another to have software convert that data into actionable insights and intelligence that can inform better decision making.

One component of the complete Munetrix edition of our data management and analytics software for municipalities is a suite of tools that empower cities, villages and townships to perform peer review audits, track progress against their own metrics and manage projects to easily meet compliance requirements. The Budget Builder app, for example, is a powerful tool that allows users to create linear regression budgets in a matter of minutes.

We wrote recently about some features of the Munetrix Municipal Budget Allocation Reporting Dashboard. Whether you are allocating new monies from stimulus or other surplus, or making tough decisions about spending cuts, the best way to make those hard choices confidently is having the most complete set of data available.

Get a Free Demo of Munetrix’s Data Management and Analytics Software for Municipalities Today!

The Enterprise Module of Munetrix’s data management and analytics software for cities offers the most complete range of data visualization software for municipalities available. The full product includes budgeting, chart of accounts planning, forecasting and scenario building to debt management, peer benchmarking and capital improvement management, powerful interdependent apps that collaborate to contextualize and visualize all data sets available, from public API to your city’s internal data systems.

City managers, finance directors and other municipal administrators can get free access to one of the key tools in our data management and analytics software for municipalities with a free report we are issuing to any city, township or village who wants to receive this complimentary report. Learn how your municipality’s budget allocations compare to the average of all others in your region with this free, personalized report created specifically for your particular city, village or township—at no cost or obligation! Click here to receive your free, personalized report within 24 hours.

To learn more about how local governments are using data management and analytics software for municipalities to build better budgets, make better decisions, and inject greater transparency, easier compliance and, ultimately, more community trust, collaboration and teamwork with their constituents, request a no-obligation demo to unlock 30 days of free access to the Munetrix data management and analytics software for municipalities!

Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Opinion, Uncategorized

Watch: How to Restore Public Trust in Government Institutions through Data Literacy

Take a closer look at the Munetrix Municipal Module, the comprehensive, all-in-one solution for municipal administrators being tasked with doing “more with less”:

Munetrix Municipal Data Solutions

More transparency. More trust. Stronger community…Say hello to easy!

To learn more about the Munetrix Municipal Module, take our virtual today!

school assessment data
Education, K-12, Opinion

Addressing Inequities and Assessment Challenges Facing Educators, Students and Families Amid Imperfect Educational Environments

How Adopting Emerging Technologies Facilitates Learning, Simplifies Progress Monitoring, and Improves Student Outcomes

A version of this article originally appeared in District Administration Magazine.

As we approach the midpoint of this school year, students are learning via a variety of instructional modalities, including face-to-face, virtual and hybrid instruction.  As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising again, schools are shifting between instructional models to flex with changing health safety guidelines and local community dynamics. Educational pedagogy such as “synchronous” and “asynchronous learning” are becoming household terms. And, educators at all levels are making Herculean efforts to keep up with these challenges and to provide the best possible instruction for students.

In this oscillating climate, educators must pivot quickly to adapt—guided by data—to have the greatest impact on student learning. The ability to rapidly access, analyze and evaluate data—across multiple assessments and platforms (along with other types of data)—is critical to making decisions about instruction, programming and interventions.

The Continuing Impact COVID-19 Will Have on Students this Fall

A recent study conducted in partnership between NWEA, Brown University and University of Virginia (EdWorkingPaper 20-226) projects that “Students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.” The study goes on further to state, “We estimate that losing ground during the COVID-19 school closures would not be universal, with the top third of students potentially making gains in reading.” 

In short, not every student will be impacted in the same way, nor to the same degree. Equity plays a large role in the learning gaps between individual students resulting from a variety of elements including prior achievement, socioeconomic factors, access to technology and internet, teacher training on virtual instruction, support within the home, and more. 

Dynamic reporting tools can help educators to look at trends, past and present, and disaggregate trends easily by filtering at various levels.

Why is Data-Driven Instruction More Important Than Ever?

While assessments can be powerful tools to identify student needs or monitor student progress/growth, assessments are only powerful when the data is analyzed and applied to drive instruction, programming and interventions. Educators must use data to take action for data to have any utility. Otherwise, it’s just more test data.

In Paul Bambrick Santayo’s book, Driven by Data, he writes that schools need to change their focus from, “what is taught” to “what is learned.”  The impact of the pandemic on student learning and the ongoing transitioning of learning environments escalates the necessity of this shift in focus.

Bambrick-Santayo goes on to identify that there are four fundamental building blocks to data driven instruction: assessment, analysis, action and culture.

  • Assessments must be standards-aligned, with varying levels of questions for depth of knowledge and understanding and provide data that not only informs instruction but helps to compare students with their peers. 
  • Analysis is the key to using the data to identify areas of student need so that action can be taken. 
  • Educators must understand how to apply the conclusions from their data analysis to take appropriate actions that have the greatest impact.
  • Finally, educational leaders must create a culture in which data-driven instruction will thrive.  This includes providing and following an assessment calendar, providing time for deep data analysis and discussion, and encouraging/supporting educators in using the data to guide actions taken.
Dynamic reporting tools in data analytics systems allow educators to quickly analyze trends over multiple assessment periods, and aggregate/disaggregate data using filters.

The greatest barrier to moving from assessment to action is the deep and meaningful analysis of assessment data. Analysis requires the “systematic examination of assessment data to thoroughly determine students’ strengths and weaknesses, then taking the necessary steps to address their needs,” states Bambrick-Santayo.

How to Optimally Get from Assessment to Action

According to Bambrick-Santayo, the first core driver of analysis includes “user-friendly reports.” Time is the new premium. There isn’t the time, nor resources, available to build complex spreadsheets to facilitate comparing data across multiple assessment platforms. The skill level at which educators can analyze data varies as greatly as the instructional levels among students, and many educators may not have the technical skills to create and manage the elaborate spreadsheets needed for meaningful data analysis. Time to teach these new skills is severely limited or not available.  Furthermore, safety protocols, preparation for virtual learning classes, and the new logistics/daily routines of instruction have removed any “extra” time that was once nominally available.

Educators need tools that help analyze data across multiple platforms—quickly, easily and seamlessly. They want tools that provide easy-to-read reports, where computerized systems “crunch the numbers for them.” These tools should rapidly disaggregate or aggregate student assessment data at the student, class, grade, building or district level—by subject, standard or objective—all within a few clicks…not hours or days.

Dynamic reporting tools can help educators easily group students by proficiency and skill/goal area for targeted instruction/intervention.

Dynamic platforms empower educators to change views rapidly in order to identify trends, gaps and areas of need. They help educators filter different types of student data, including achievement, attendance, behavior, demographic and perception data, so that schools and districts are able to analyze the needs of the whole child. In a perfect world, this should be available in one online platform (not multiple systems with different logins that require manual massaging of data between platforms). Data must be accessible anytime, anywhere, to adapt to changing school environments.

Dynamic reporting tools can help educators easily identify significant gaps among different groups of students, help drive data-based decisions on interventions, programming and resource allocation.

A “New Normal” Guided by Data

Perhaps COVID-19 will accelerate the implementation of data-driven instruction to permeate more substantially in everyday educational practice. The easier data analysis is, the more it frees educators to spend their time taking meaningful action with students. For Data Driven practices to take root, educational leaders must also purposefully set aside time to infuse deep and meaningful data analysis, planning and action into the school culture. 

It’s not that educators don’t have enough access to data. It’s that educators need to easily convert that data into intelligence…and intelligence into action. Only then, can educators focus their time, energy, expertise and passion on what they do best—educating and developing today’s learners!

Linda Kraft is Director of Customer Experience with Munetrix, a Michigan-based data analytics and management firm serving school districts and municipalities across the country. She can be reached at Learn more at


Bambrick-Santayo, Paul.  Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction.  Jossey-Bass, 2019.

Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Virelug. (2020)., COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.  Retrieved from Fresno State University:

Kuhfeld, Megan, James Soland, Beth Tarasawa, Angela Johnson, Erik Ruzek, and Jing Liu. (2020). Projecting the potential impacts of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement. (EdWorkingPaper: 20-226). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Opinion

Schools Should Take a Three-Phased Approach as They Plan to Return to “Normal”

How to Adapt Today, Become Adept Tomorrow, and What to Adopt Permanently

[A version of this post originally appeared on District Administration, a national trade journal serving school district administrators and educators.]

When announcements came that states were closing schools for the remainder of this school year, in a way they brought the first semblance of clarity to the myriad spate of unknowns. Soon, we began to look ahead to the fall school year, which brings its own set of variables and unknowns. While we expect timelines and announcements to vary from district to district and state to state, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: it is unlikely that things will soon be getting “back to normal” in large measure.

With each day comes increased clarity, if only at the margins, but that clarity is often difficult to recognize in moments of urgency and quickly shifting priorities. But each day, discoveries are being made: we weren’t prepared for this or that, we hadn’t accounted for every contingency, or perhaps, maybe we’ve stumbled upon a better way to manage this particular task.

Which is why, though it may seem difficult at first, school districts and personnel at every level of education should be taking this time to reassess their systems, processes and vulnerabilities to optimize what will eventually be a return to some degree of normalcy. But it likely won’t happen overnight. In fact, we suggest that educators and administrators take a three-phased approach: take immediate remedial actions where you can in the short term, plan for an eventual transition back to a more recognizable learning environment, and document what new workflows should be permanently adopted as best practice long-term.

Phase One: Triage for Today

Literally overnight, educators and administrators were thrust into an entirely unfamiliar work and teaching environment. Technology needed to be learned and adopted without warning, nor training. Employees dispersed to millions of disconnected remote home offices in an instant. Nearly everything we took for granted, in terms of collaboration, communication and cooperation, was suddenly taken from us. And many instantly discovered the limitations and vulnerabilities that few had accounted for.

Access to systems and documents proved challenging for those who are used to keeping software and hardware under literal and figurative lock-and-key. If “it’s at my desktop at school,” it’s practically unreachable at the moment.

But work needs to get done. Meetings need to happen. Projects need to press forward, and budgets will soon be due. We cannot permanently pause. As many have discovered, time waits for no one. 

All of this underscores the need to quickly establish and document new workflows, new teams, new processes for planning, and new systems and technology that live in the cloud or are accessible to anyone who needs it, 24/7. 

Amid all of our other urgent priorities, administrators and educators should be documenting proper workflows that account for each of the following:

  • Tasks: Capture explicit documentation of all required tasks to complete a given project.
  • Teams: Make sure all tasks are assignable to ensure completion and inject accountability.
  • Timelines: Create project milestones that are clearly defined and realistically attainable.
  • Metrics: Measure progress and success against pre-established desired outcomes.
  • Prompts and Reminders: In times of uncertainty, teams will need (and respond to) built-in alerts and prompts when deadlines approach or new priorities arise.
  • Collaboration: Multiple teams may need to collaborate on overlapping projects. Create safeguards against tasks being missed due to workflow handoffs or unclear accountability.

Once decided upon and documented, leverage available technology to create one centralized knowledge base and project management tool, accessible remotely. Harnessing workflows into one centralized location will make sure nothing gets missed or skipped and can account for new workflows that might come along as priorities shift or change.

Phase Two: Transition to Tomorrow

Workflows, processes, systems and task forces will eventually need to return to a more conventional reality. The problem is, we don’t currently know when that will be. Perhaps it will be announced as suddenly as we transitioned away from our regularly scheduled programming. There will be a sense of relief, to be sure…but there will also be demanding deadlines and daunting decisions equal to those we are grappling with today. 

If uncertainty can be mitigated, now is the time to do it, when it is most relevant and obvious. School districts should be encouraging administrators, educators and clerical support to document where the vulnerabilities and shortcomings emerged, so they can be addressed, not only in the long term, but to avoid a painful transition-back in the nearer term.

In the past several weeks, decisions had to be made with little warning, and new processes had to be up and running overnight. But now we do have some luxury of foresight, knowing that a return to regular education is coming, even if we don’t know when. Perhaps now is the time to plan for those workflows and processes to be updated, especially considering that each individual workflow and task force might have several sub-workflows, and perhaps even disparate teams collaborating at different points and times.

A few transitions we can anticipate now, for which workflows and centralized knowledge bases can be established:

How will we track and process the return of devices that have been assigned out, and who is assigned to each subtask?

What is the new process for building preparation and maintenance, following the sudden dispersal of maintenance personnel, including timelines and accountabilities for reopening facilities?

What updates to registration workflows might need to be made if registration for the new school year is in a compressed time frame or needs to occur remotely/digitally?

How do our teacher and student evaluations need to be addressed, given how the final weeks of this school year’s curricula were delivered?

What changes need to be made to accommodate school lunch provision, both over the summer and should another similar crisis arise—remote delivery or centralized pickup?

Many districts were preparing to roll out a new math series in the fall: Will workflows need to accommodate new realities and timelines?

How will summer school be administered?

Are there necessary changes to scheduling and processing of material assets, such as bus maintenance?

As budget deadlines approach, how can we build in scenarios, given the many unknowns?

Technology is better equipped to manage these tasks, workflows and scenarios at scale than humans, pen-and-paper, or even static spreadsheet software (like Excel or Google Sheets). In most cases, the data to make informed decisions and create optimized workflows already exists and is readily available to school districts. There’s never been a better nor more urgent time to plug in to the tools at our disposal.

Phase Three: Adopt to Adapt, and Stay Adept

What many discover during times of crisis is that processes and procedures adapted out of urgency or necessity can actually be adopted as best practices going forward. In fact, the quicker, most efficient way to accomplish priorities can be discovered then defined to make our teams more effective while reducing costs and eliminating unnecessary exposures to human error.

The first step is moving away from paper and into digital environments. Next, make sure that data and technology is universally available and accessible—from anywhere, at any time, by anyone who should rightly have access. Lastly, allow (or force) technology to do the heavy lifting of planning, coordinating and measuring successful projects and collaborating teams.

Your new workflows and systems should allow you to:

  • plan and prepare for the unknown
  • proactively put processes in place and document workflows
  • account for contingencies
  • consider various and, perhaps even unforeseen, scenarios
  • trigger alternate paths, as appropriate
  • maintain a centralized knowledge repository that can be shared, not only among existing team members, but in perpetuity, even as personnel turnover continues at pace for the foreseeable future

School district professionals may find it challenging to manage the complexity of workflows even under “normal” circumstances. Maybe “normalcy” will return soon, but in the meantime, increased urgency and shifting priorities can create or elevate margin for human error. If we can use this challenge as an opportunity to modernize and optimize workflows, we will all be better for it…both in standard operating procedures and, heaven forbid, when the next crisis presents itself.

This discipline and attention to detail in the short term will build better habits for the long run. Once we emerge from crisis mode, we should take comfort in the lessons learned and the uncertainty conquered.

Linda Kraft is Director of Customer Engagement with Munetrix, a Michigan-based data analytics and management firm serving school districts and municipalities across the country. She can be reached at