When we have competing priorities, how can we ensure that staff remain tied to the projects that matter most? Fortune School of Education, a California-based charter management organization, had an answer to this question: the Strategic Data Project fellowship.
Fortune is committed to developing a pipeline of exceptional teachers and graduating high-achieving students prepared for college and citizenship in a democratic society. In the hopes of expanding the reach of their mission, last year they applied for the competitive "Replication and Expansion of High Quality Charter Schools" grant, a federal grant that would support the growth and replication of Fortune’s high-quality charter schools. A key requirement for a strong application included a rigorous evaluation plan. However, limited staff capacity meant that Fortune needed someone with the support to steer the evaluation plan.
Rather than dismiss this key opportunity, Fortune boldly lived out their pillar of Choice and Commitment which states, “We don't shy away from hard work, we embrace it.” As a result, they skillfully leveraged the SDP fellowship to serve as the north star for completing an important evaluation that would build upon their results-driven work. By incorporating the SDP fellowship into their proposal budget, Fortune designated an existing talented data analyst to enroll as an Agency Fellow with the Strategic Data Project. This meant that the Fellow candidate’s scope of work to evaluate organizational progress would be woven into Fortune’s critical work ahead.
Due to their thoughtful proposal, Fortune won the grant and was able to enroll Dominic Zarecki as an Agency Fellow. Says Dominic, “My advice to fellows writing their funding into a grant would be: think of it as an opportunity to ‘lock in’ work that is valuable but unlikely to get prioritized. I feel a bit like Odysseus asking my crew to tie me to the mast. I'm still busy and want to respond to the Siren song of emails, but the grant ties me to the crucial evaluation work.”
Organizations like Fortune School of Education understand the importance of ensuring that evaluation is an essential component of their work amidst a sea of competing priorities. Stories like Dominic’s illustrate how the SDP fellowship can build much needed capacity for organizations in their pursuit of better education outcomes for all students.