The Future of School Districts

I walked into the Alpine School District offices with my parents. I was 17, and I still remember the feeling of not caring what the outcome was. I was there because I’d brought a pistol bb gun to school. Obviously not a good move, but this was 1994. It was different than today. I like to think that if I were growing up in today’s world, with the constant reminders of school violence – really everywhere violence – I would be smarter. But who knows. I’m just glad I grew up when I did. And where I did, I suppose. 

The meeting was a hearing to determine if my expulsion from school would be upheld, or if I would be able to return to school. I could tell the committee I was meeting with was very concerned about what I had done. My parents, that was a different story. They were more than concerned. My father was a middle school teacher, the kind who got to work early and stayed late. The kind who everywhere we went people stopped us to say hello to him, sometimes decades later. 

But back to this committee, the one in charge of my future at public school. They weren’t just concerned about what I had done. I could tell they were concerned for me. It changed my rebellious, who cares attitude into one of penance. I started to act as I really was – a dumb kid who did dumb things, but who was scared. I wanted to go back to school even if I didn’t act like it. 

Because of the seriousness of what I’d done, and because I had already had other run-ins with the school authorities, the decision was made that I couldn’t go back to school that year, but I would be able to return for my senior year. If I ran afoul of school rules at all I’d be gone, and I’d need to seek out my diploma elsewhere. I think I probably acted like most kids and had a great time my senior year of high school, but I went on to graduate. 

I think schools, and districts, need to act more like business. More accountability, pay for performance, innovation and risk-taking rewarded, not smothered. But there are some aspects of districts that work. And really, public schools as a whole. If my home school district at age 17 had acted like a business, I wouldn’t have graduated from high school. Which probably, in all likelihood, meant I didn’t graduate from college either. So the question is how can school districts change, to act more like a business operating in an open and competitive environment, without losing the things that separate them from being a business? The good things, and the more human things.

Now would be a good time to say that I went on to work for a school district for 14 years. First, I was a janitor. I handled that long enough to not get fired (barely) before applying for and being hired for a warehouse position. I then earned a B.S. degree in Business, and was promoted into a Financial Analyst position. I kept going, earned an MBA, and moved into a position where I managed the district’s budgets and also worked on launching a new product called eSchool. Probably seems like a weird combination, but I noted early on in my Finance role that our concerns seemed to be about 90% on expenses and 10% on revenues. Our enrollment, and therefore revenues, were getting killed by those damn charter schools. We needed to find a way to get students back in the district, and that’s how we came up with the concept for an online school called eSchool (it was around 2009 or so, don’t laugh at the name). Now, eSchool is that school district’s largest school by far. 

That’s right. I left the school district after 14 years, because I was done. But based on some relatively strong success in growing eSchool, I was sought out by a slick taking Australian dude (more on him in another article) and was offered a position as a Marketing Director for a network of charter schools in California. That didn’t last, thankfully, but it put me in a position to build something that would. After some detours. But the way I – actually we – built it was different than I built eSchool, because doing anything under a school district umbrella is just so different than launching a charter school. And the lessons, and differences, should be studied by school districts. The good and the bad. Because there’s lots of both. 


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