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Educators See Relationships Raise Results

A school administration faces a discouraging situation with openness, focus, courage, and commitment, and an Agile team emerges

24 August 2016

Michael Caspar
Caspar Computer Services Inc.

Blueprint Education is a nonprofit operating three high schools in Arizona. By the spring of 2014, the organization had experienced multiple years of financial losses, and its schools were among the lowest performing in the state. Recognizing the need for sweeping change, the Blueprint Education board appointed a new CEO (Mark French) in March 2014. By the beginning of the next school year, Blueprint Education had a new leadership team focused on turning the schools around. Central to this turnaround effort was the creation of an Agile culture.

Below is a description of several sprints that are milestones in turnaround effort.

In May 2016, the leadership team for Blueprint Education (CEO, COO, and principals) worked to complete the Demonstration of Sufficient Progress (DSP) for the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools (ASBCS). Since previous student achievement scores for the schools were below standard, Blueprint had to justify to the ASBCS that changes had been made that had resulted in increased student performance. If they could not show increased student performance, the schools would be closed.

The DSP requires detailed answers to 41 questions related to curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development. The task was to prove that there are robust systems in place to operate the schools and to provide detailed data showing the improved academic success of the students. The team prepared an 88-page document that provided evidence to support the responses, as well as student achievement data to prove that turnaround efforts are working.

The leadership team embraced the value of focus as they organized to complete this complicated and comprehensive task. The team met daily for two consecutive sprints (four weeks). The team members set aside other work and made the commitment to be away from their school campuses for the benefit of face-to-face communication.

The team made their work visible. They tasked the story into very small pieces, resulting in lots of sticky notes. All could see the work moving from "Doing" to "Done." Also, impediments were clear for all to see.

Preparing the DSP response is tedious, detailed work. The ScrumMaster made sure to remove impediments. In some cases it was critical to just to keep the team encouraged; a few times the ScrumMaster secured off-site meeting space to provide a change of environment. The ScrumMaster also helped the team organize a central filing system.

The team completed the DSP. Following the submission of the report, the team hosted the ASBCS representatives for a site visit. The purpose of the site visit was to walk the representatives through the report and answer questions regarding the evidence.

At the site visit, the team explained Blueprint Education’s academic process and presented proof of implementation with fidelity. The team also presented and defended data, showing student growth in math and English Language Arts for all its schools.

The meeting was a great success! The ASBCS representatives found that curriculum, assessment, monitoring instruction, professional development, graduation rate, and academic persistence met the standard in all areas. The data report also showed growth in all but two areas. And one of the ASBCS evaluators commented that Blueprint Education was the most organized and well-prepared set of schools he had visited.

On August 8, 2016, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools unanimously voted to renew the charter for Blueprint Education.

In retrospective, the team was very satisfied with the process employed to complete this project. The discipline of focus produced great results. Relationships also grew deeper from working together through the discouraging times. The result is that the team has developed new competencies, along with an increased confidence.

Editor's note: Watch for the Fall 2016 issue of AgileVox magazine for more on Blueprint Education's role in the collaboration on an Agile "education manifesto" for schools and administrators worldwide.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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