In 2016, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving engaged FourPoint to support a cohort of district grantees in planning for the sustainability of their work to improve family, school and community partnerships (FSCP). In this era of tight resources, the Foundation wanted to ensure that its investments would become an integral part of district operations and continue to support deeper engagement and broader partnerships well beyond its funding horizon.
Districts were facing intense pressure and scrutiny to improve their outcomes for students, so making time for a long-term planning approach was challenging. Leaders and stakeholders needed to be engaged so that they could see how taking time to plan early in their grants would translate to later success. FourPoint began our work with an on-site meeting at each district. This meeting allowed us to understand how their partnership work fit in and supported other district priorities and to develop crucial relationships with each planning team. Reassuring the team that we would help with the heavy lifting and that their finished plans could be used for multiple purposes—budget development, board reports, other proposals, partnership development—helped to get us over this hump.
Once the districts got into the work and realized the power of longer-term planning, initial reluctance turned to enthusiasm for the process.
The FourPoint process to support sustainability planning includes four steps.
Written plans begin with a short summary of what the district wants to sustain based on what it knows about how the work is currently unfolding – what’s working, what’s not, what requires longer-term investments, and what will require fewer or no resources as time goes on.
At the heart of the process are a set of budget tools and templates. These allow districts to see how their investments support different strands of their work. Doing so allows stakeholders to have informed conversations related to growth, scale and tradeoffs over time.
I was new to central office administration and creating a multi-year plan was hard work, and not something that we had experience with. FourPoint held my hand through the process and quickly became a trusted partner in the work. And we are already seeing its value. As we face a really tough state budget climate here, we know that we’ve thought through a number of scenarios to help us sustain our results and keep moving forward.”
– Veronica Marion, Coordinator, Office of Family and Community Partnerships, East Hartford Public Schools
FourPoint also helped districts look for opportunities to build the costs of the FSCP work into their base budgets—in some districts, this meant potential changes to teacher contracts to include more time and flexibly for partnership work. We also helped district leaders identify and explore non-fiscal strategies for systematizing their work, including folding partnership priorities into school improvement plans; creating a cohort of parent leaders who help facilitate family partnerships with schools; and embedding family engagement training into regular professional learning for new and veteran staff.
Each district’s final plan includes detailed cost and revenue projections as well as gaps that need to be filled in out years. It also addresses the other pieces of the sustainability equation—how the district will build a collective commitment to the work and integrate or align their funded strategies with the core operations and priorities of the district.
Most districts in the cohort prioritized sustaining their lead FSCP personnel at the central office and school levels, seeing them as essential to the success of the work. FourPoint helped the districts get creative to ensure these positions would be funded over time. One district leveraged building consolidation to redirect resources towards FSCP. Another implemented a policy of taking a small portion of every grant where FCPS was an allowable use to fund their work. All of the districts explored additional public and private sources.
District leaders credited the sustainability planning process with forcing them to think hard about their priorities and to identify what they would fund and how before those questions became a crisis. Thinking about a multi-year budget also allowed them to consider how start-up costs decline, how on-going costs could be shifted onto the district budget, or how staff roles might evolve over time to enable key partnership activities. Leaders also noted that the process has built their capacity to think more strategically about budgeting in general—they now feel better prepared to consider sustainability from the outset of any new reform.
Sustaining high-quality work during challenging economic times is a critical issue in the work of schools. As funding evaporates at the local, state, and national level, it is essential that school districts are proactive in our efforts to insure the continuation of successful initiatives. Our work with FourPoint was honest, hard and productive. It has given us a real road map forward for the future when our funding is not so assured. Because of this work, I am confident that we will not lose the great work we have begun when this grant runs out!
– Russell Sills, Director, Office of Family and Community Partnership, Windsor Public Schools