At City Connects, our big-picture thinkers are our program managers. They make sure our model is faithfully implemented across all our partner schools.
Their job starts with supervising our coordinators. But our program managers – eight in five states — are also figuring out how to have both disciplined consistency and the savvy flexibility it takes to meet needs that differ from school to school and community to community.
“Program managers are the real linchpin between the practice and how it’s carried out in the schools,” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says. Our eight program managers are a diverse group with broad perspectives: two are former principals, three are former City Connects coordinators, two have community school backgrounds, and one is a school social worker.
We knew that it would be crucial for program managers to talk to each other, so we launched monthly meetings via Skype. These are effective, but to foster what Sullivan calls “a stronger community of practice” and stronger leadership, we launched, just last year, an in-person, two-day, annual meeting for program managers. The meeting features sessions on different topics and a question-and-answer period so that we can hear from the field.
“For me the best part of it is getting to interact with the other program managers,” Charlene Diaz says. She’s the program manager for the Hartford Public Schools. “We have these monthly meetings that we do remotely, and that’s good. But when we all get together in one room, it has a different vibe to it, and I feel like we get so much more accomplished.”
We held our second annual meeting last month, and we’re seeing the conversations grow and bear fruit. Last year a session on coaching and supervising coordinators led to the development of a rubric that program managers can use as a coaching tool to make sure that all the elements of the City Connects model are being implemented. Program managers will start using the rubric in the fall.
“That will deepen the practice of the program managers’ coaching, and also the practice of coordinators who are doing the actual City Connects work,” Sullivan says.
City Connects continuous improvement process will also benefit. A key focus in this area is how coordinators follow-up with students, teachers, and community partners. Program managers will be able to assess this part of our practice during next year’s meeting when they’ll have three years of follow-up data to analyze.
Overall, the annual meetings help us harvest good questions and promising ideas that improve what we do — and that turn successful innovations and experiments into sustainable practices that can become tools for both seasoned and brand-new program managers.
So far, feedback on the meeting has been positive.
“People are so committed to this practice and have drilled down deeper into it,” Sullivan says. “They are thinking philosophically about this work in their districts.”
That effort will payoff for children as we find new and better ways to get the right services to the right child at the right time.