Afton provides district-wide planning for scale of innovative school models.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports innovation that can improve K-12 public schools and ensure that students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and career. Based on research indicating positive results from personalized learning, the Gates Foundation established the Next Generation Systems Initiative (NGSI), aimed at supporting a cohort of medium-to-large school districts in designing, launching, and scaling personalized learning schools. Subject area experts were brought together to support the cohort in all aspects of planning and implementation; Afton Partners provided expertise in financial planning.
NGSI included six geographically diverse districts with varying student needs, ranging in size from 40,000 to 160,000 students. Each district selected four to eight schools to be a part of the initial pilot. Afton supported each pilot school – 36 in total – in developing and refining a financial plan to ensure sustainability of their design. As pilots launched, Afton worked with districts on unique needs as they contemplated scale. Of note, Afton worked with academic and financial leaders at two large districts to model costs of implementing personalized learning across all schools. Interactive tools were developed to allow for scenario planning and incorporate latest learning from pilot schools.
Moving from pilot to scale is challenging. Districts can manage the costs of pilots, but understanding and funding the costs of full district scale can seem daunting. Similarly, during pilot phases, exceptions to policies and processes can be handled as one-off waivers or exemptions, but once scale is contemplated, policies, processes, and organizational structures – often long-held and ‘sacred’ – must be reconsidered.
Financial planning for scale is an iterative process, which occurs alongside pilot implementation. We recommend planning for financially sustainable scale early, and creating a long-term sustainability plan capable of incorporating updates and lessons learned from pilots in a timely manner. Similarly, pilot schools need to be informed of district constraints to ensure designed models are not too costly to scale.
Creating an environment that is conducive for scaling innovation is a critical district role. Consider making strategic investments in creating a culture of innovation, focusing on investments that promote innovation, rather than focusing on physical assets (such as devices and furniture). Policies, processes, and organizational structures must be revisited, and viewed through the lens of innovation. Financial, operational, and policy challenges identified in pilots should be resolved for long-term effectiveness and sustainability.