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Data-Informed Auxiliary Programs

By Net Assets posted 09-03-2019 09:31 AM

  
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Shift auxiliary program goals from arbitrary and out-of-reach to strategic and achievable using data sets and other national resources.

Article by Vinita Ahuja, Georgetown Day School

From the September/October 2019 NetAssets magazine

Feature image courtesy of Georgetown Day School.

The auxiliary programs community is collegial and collaborative, and I look forward to professional development opportunities where I can connect with other practitioners in the field. One thing that always surprises me at these gatherings is the number of colleagues, especially those directing new programs, who are charged with meeting annual goals that seem to have been planned in a vacuum. The goals are often related to financial expectations or to admissions outcomes.

Targets should not be set arbitrarily. Associations such as NBOA now provide independent schools with the latest research and data around educational, demographic and financial trends. The real question is: with such a plethora of information, how do we and our schools cull the data and research that exists to inform our programs and set realistic outcomes?

New Goals, New Programs

When I started at Georgetown Day School (GDS) in 2007, I was fortunate that the strategic plan included clear direction and expectations; that is not the case at some schools. The plan called for the creation of an auxiliary programs department that would raise an annual net of $500,000 by the 2012-13 school year, focus primarily on students outside of the GDS community and provide GDS employees opportunities to earn a summer salary.

The school had run a few one-off rentals and a small after-school program prior to my arrival, but expected a rapid ramp-up in metro DC’s saturated independent school camp market. The mandates drove the direction of the programs I established. Later I asked our then-CFO how the school had settled on $500,000 annual net. She shared that it was the budgeted number that the school needed to reach, determined with little to no benchmarking that would suggest if it was an achievable outcome.

After 12 successful years at Georgetown Day School, various resources have become essential to my work, particularly to shaping strategic goals that drive program development. Some look at auxiliary programs within the context of independent schools, and others focus more on program delivery. Many of these resources also offer a variety of professional development opportunities that help build the program and improve outcomes for students and the school.

In stark contrast to the 2007 plan, GDS’s 2013 strategic plan called for our after-school programs to be revenue-neutral, with their primary purpose to serve the GDS community, advance the mission and focus increasingly on enrichment. This shift was rooted in GDS’s history and mission. In 1945, GDS was founded as the first racially or religiously integrated school in DC. Social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion have been through lines since our founding. In discussing the strategic shift, the school wanted to address areas of equity related to opportunity gaps, particularly for families in which all parents were working and those on financial aid that were less able to access resources outside of the school due to time or resources. Consequently, our programs shifted to fewer camps and more academic summer programs, as well as more academic-focused enrichment opportunities during our extended-day program — a change that required a huge amount of research.

Data-Informed Decisions

I collected both quantitative and qualitative data internally to determine where the enrichment supports were needed. We wanted to consider not only achievement gaps but also opportunity gaps. I looked at what programs our students participated in outside of school as well as national and local programs that would support our students. I wanted the latest research on after-school and out-of-school time programs so that we could ensure our programs met the highest standards.

To reconsider staffing needs, I used external data related to the local and regional job markets, and qualities of highly effective out-of-school-time personnel, as well as internal data on retention of our part-time staff. These resources enabled me to argue successfully that my team should be expanded to provide superior programs.

The culmination of these efforts was a rebranding of our after-school program into the GDS 360 Extended Day Program and our summer camps into a summer studies program, starting with school year 2015–16 and summer 2016. We have initiated small changes annually since then. We introduced a pay-banding structure for our extended-day staff to provide a professional ladder for growth and to identify the skills we wanted to see and develop in our part-time personnel. We slowly introduced new programs and increased what we were paying both our staff and our vendors to enable us to hire more competitively. And for the 2019–20 school year, all of our classes — even basketball, fencing and our “clubhouse” activities for younger students — will include a focus on writing, reading, math and problem-solving skills. (See a complete extended-day class list, including learning objectives and outcomes, at gds.org/GDS360.)

GDS's Auxillary Programs

We incurred two main areas of expense with these shifts. First, in the last two years, we shifted our financial aid model for after-school fees. We have always offered financial aid at the same rate as tuition for all our extended-day activities. However, until last year, we also had a minimum fee for which financial aid was not applicable. We found that our families on the highest amount of aid were, in some cases, paying more for extended day than for the school year tuition, so we have moved to a straight percentage model. Incidentally, since we’ve instituted the program changes, we’re finding more non-financial aid families participating in our offerings. In addition, as we increased our payment rates for our staff and vendors, we also slowly increased rates for our program to offset the increase in payroll. We are still under market rate for after-school care.

These programmatic changes led to renewed interest in both programs; during the 2018-19 school year, we served 392 preschool-grade 8 students — 75 percent of enrolled lower and middle school students and approximately 180-225 children per day. The programs are more than revenue-neutral; they are revenue-positive, netting approximately $200,000 per year after salaries, expenses, financial aid and general operating expense overhead.

Careful Comparisons

Although auxiliary programs may encompass a wider range of activities, I will focus on data and resources related to the most common programs: auxiliary programs generally, summer programs, after-school programs and rentals. Typically, schools run auxiliary programs primarily for one of three reasons: revenue, admissions or mission, i.e., service to one’s own community and/or other communities. The type of data that is most meaningful depends on a program’s primary purpose and will vary from school to school.

To get a sense of your program’s scale compared to peer schools, you can start by benchmarking salary data and general auxiliary revenue. Understanding typical ROI or salary ranges for new program directors may be especially important when considering a new program. Broad-stroke financial data on revenues and expenses is available in NBOA’s BIIS data collection platform, in NAIS’s DASL database, and with other organizations such as INDEX. Depending on the source, this information may also be subdivided into rentals, summer and extended-day programs as well as other programs that sometimes fall into the auxiliary bucket.

It is important to understand what factors are included so that we can be sure we are comparing metaphorical Gala apples to Fuji or Pink Lady apples, rather than apples to oranges and mangoes.

Note that these data will not illuminate whether a peer school is a running 6-week or 9-week program during the summer or how many students participate in the extended-day program, so “cohort” comparisons should be considered carefully. These sources can serve as starting points to assess what the possibilities of financial return might be.

Other data points — especially those around financial returns — should also be taken with caution, as they may not offer direct comparisons. One of the data sources, for instance, defines auxiliary income as income from a range of programs that GDS does not currently offer (e.g., bookstore, dining, health services) in addition to after-school programs, but does not include summer programs or facilities rentals, which are areas I direct. It is important to understand what factors are included so that we can be sure we are comparing metaphorical Gala apples to Fuji or Pink Lady apples, rather than apples to oranges and mangoes.

Drilling Down

While big-picture data related to independent schools is useful, it is often necessary to find more specific or qualitative, industry-specific information. The Auxiliary Services Organization (AUXS) and the Summer Programs and Auxiliary Revenue Conference (SPARC) are two organizations that conduct surveys specifically related to the work of auxiliary programs. For instance, together they recently published an auxiliary program partnership survey report about rental and vendor relationships and just completed their biennial compensation and benefits survey of auxiliary programs directors, which includes information about what falls under the director’s responsibilities, how many staff they have on their teams, and compensation for those staff members.

When I started at GDS in 2007, I had a number of questions about various aspects of my role and began an auxiliary programs Google Group. This group has grown to over 250 active participants nationwide and is a resource for information-sharing that improves our ability to support our schools. Auxiliary programs, summer and extended-day directors working in and employed by schools may request to join through the Google Group web portal (vendors are not permitted to join). Recent conversations have ranged from accommodating students with disabilities to working with international placement firms to facility reservation software to waiver language related to swimming pools and more. This is an invaluable resource for getting a sense of what’s happening in the auxiliary world broadly. I use this group to bounce ideas off peers, to get a sense of best practices, and to follow local and national trends in independent schools.

Beyond Independent Schools

Of course, the world of summer and after-school programming is larger than the independent school world. Among the many organizations that share best practices for out-of-school-time programming, a few that stand out are the American Camping Association (ACA), the National Institute for Out-of-School Time (NOIST) at Wellesley College and particularly its AfterSchool Matters journal, the Afterschool Alliance, the National AfterSchool Association and the National Summer Learning Association, just to name a few. While some of these organizations focus primarily on underserved communities, the trainings they offer and research they conduct around youth and family engagement are useful no matter the community served.

NIOST research around high quality out-of-school-time programs for older youth, for instance, helped me argue for changes we made in our middle school extended-day program. The ACA and their regional affiliates focus on the business of camp, covering everything from hiring and training to marketing to risk management to program content. One need not be an ACA member or run an ACA-accredited program to attend the conferences.

Facilities and Special Events

Depending on the scope of a school’s rental and events programs, some local and national data might be useful. At the city or county level, parks and recreation sites as well as websites that track event venues can serve as good benchmarks to determine market cost and policies within a given region. Often these sites share rental prices, capacities and rental parameters.

It is also important to look at internal data when pricing facilities rentals. A comparison of total operating hours and total plant related expenses (utilities, grounds, cleaning, facilities, security, etc.) will give the school a sense of approximately how much it might cost to open a building for an hour.

GDS uses this data to determine the minimum hourly fee to hold a rental event, and it helps us clarify our prices and policies to alumni, nonprofits and neighbors who want to use our space for free — or to the administrator that wants us to share the space for free. The information allows us to ensure that we are not losing money and beyond that, are being strategic and hitting the desired ROI. While our prices may be above-market rate, we are clear that we also offer premium quality spaces that are worth what we charge. I review the data annually and adjust the minimum rate as necessary.

There is no shortage of information that can and should be used to inform and build a school’s auxiliary programs. Whether you’re starting a program from scratch, thinking strategically about an established program’s future, or wondering where to invest time, using these sources will lead to positive conversations about the growth and development of auxiliary programs and the school more broadly. 

Vinita Ahuja is director of auxiliary and extended learning programs and strategic projects at Georgetown Day School, which enrolls 1,075 students preschool through grade 12 in Washington, DC.

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