One Year of COVID-19: A Reflection
It is hard to believe it has been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The past twelve months have been uniquely challenging and a true test of our ability to adapt our work quickly to support our schools as they responded to ever-changing public health conditions. Just as other organizations had to reexamine their priorities, the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) shifted in many ways.
Rethinking Authorizing Processes
As a statewide charter school authorizer, we had to act swiftly and revise our usual processes in response to remote learning and the suspension of state assessments, among other things. Throughout our decision-making, we kept our values front and center:
- Maintain transparency,
- Continue our commitment to evidence-based decision-making,
- Ensure consistent expectations for schools, and
- Provide choice and agency for schools.
Just as schools shifted to respond to the needs of their communities, CSI shifted to meet the needs of our schools. Clarifying expectations for both CSI staff and CSI schools was essential. We continued to maintain a level of transparency with all stakeholders throughout the year.
Also, to meet schools’ needs, we selected staff to serve as CSI support contacts for each CSI school. This required our team to quickly learn and adapt to new roles and responsibilities. Support contacts connected with school leaders weekly to address questions and concerns.
We continued to uphold the principles of high-quality authorizing – access, accountability, and autonomy – while utilizing a community-responsive approach.
Annual School Accountability
It was clear that charter accountability during COVID-19 would need to look different. As a charter authorizer, CSI offers its schools the flexibility to choose educational models and methods that best meet the unique needs of their students and communities and holds its schools accountable to clear expectations for academic, financial, and organizational performance.
Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, CSI remained committed to clearly communicating with schools on how they were doing, helping schools develop and improve, and providing opportunities for regular check-ins and public transparency. While state and federal accountability systems were paused, the CSI accountability system (CSI Annual Review of Schools or CARS) continued, albeit with a more limited scope.
Relatedly, the pandemic not only impacted annual school accountability processes but those specific to charter renewal. Many factors were considered when adjusting the renewal process, and feedback was solicited from school leaders and school boards, CSI staff and board, and national partners and other authorizers.
Expanded Body of Evidence
One of the primary adjustments to the renewal process included an expanded body of evidence review to replace the state assessment data that would have been collected in 2019-2020 and provide an opportunity for schools to demonstrate an extension of a pre-existing trend or establish a positive trend in performance.
Virtual Site Visits
Another adjustment due to the pandemic was to replace on-site visits with virtual visits or other processes designed to provide contextual and qualitative information about the school. We are excited that we learned a great deal about our schools through this revised process and hope to continue using some of these tools as we engage in this year’s renewal cycle.
Read more about how we adjusted the process in the blog Charter Reauthorization during COVID-19.
CSI staff has learned a lot over the past year, and we continue to reflect on how the adjustments made sought to respond to the pandemic and the unique needs of our schools as we move forward into a new school year.
Recently at the Colorado League of Charter Schools Annual Conference, two CSI staff members shared “Lessons Learned from Supporting Charter Schools Through the COVID-19 Pandemic”. They provided a review of how CSI’s support to schools evolved, how crises response frameworks were utilized, and lessons learned.
A crisis management framework of: Engage, Explore, Explain, Execute, and Evaluate was shared as a lens to understand CSI’s approach. Read more about this approach here.
As we move forward, we will take the time to reflect on the lessons learned from this past year and determine how we want to continue to use these new tools. We will continue to reflect, grow, and share best practices into the future.