Superintendents Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Superintendents in many school districts are caught between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, more is expected of them. Standardized testing, core curricula, and increasing community expectations are pushing their schools toward higher standards and greater accountability.  On the other hand, fiscal realities are constraining education budgets. In the face of growing demands and limited resources, superintendents and school administrators are being forced to make difficult funding decisions.

One way out of this dilemma: volunteers.

Drawing on the volunteer resources within their community, school superintendents can get some measure of relief. They can meet some portion of their increasing responsibilities without requiring additional resources.

Higher Expectations for Schools

Communities have always expected much of their schools, but those expectations have ratcheted up steadily in recent years. Parents, school administrators, teachers, and government officials at all levels — not to mention students themselves — recognize that the ability to compete successfully in a global economy requires a solid educational foundation. Sophisticated analytical and computational ability and high-level oral and written presentation skills are required.

In many cases, meeting these requirements is required by law and policy. Students in K–12 schools across the United States are tested regularly, and school districts are rewarded — and punished — for their performance against standards. Much like businesses in the private sector, high-performing schools are rewarded with additional funding and attract more students, while poor-performing schools face sanctions and remedial action.

Easing the Budget Pressure with Volunteers

As a way out of their dilemma — higher expectations on the one hand and lower resources on the other — many school districts are increasing the use of volunteers. They have successfully tapped into the expertise and enthusiasm within their communities to supplement  their  resources.

According to a report issued by the Corporation for National and Community Service, “parents of school-aged children contributed more than 2.5 billion hours of their time to volunteer efforts in 2011, most of it to school-based projects.” It is not uncommon for districts to have one volunteer for every three or four students in the schools.

At all grade levels, parents are involved in tutoring or teaching in the classroom, providing clerical support, coaching, chaperoning school trips, and supporting fund-raising activities.

Given budget constraints, it would be difficult for most districts to support these activities without volunteers. Funding to pay for extra teachers, coaches or administrators is not available, and the schedules of the current administrators and teachers are full.

As one school administrator explained, “without volunteers, it wouldn’t be easy to do field trips or manage PTO activities, and our classrooms would be stretched.”

Extra Benefits of Volunteer Programs

Besides the quantifiable benefits of providing valuable resources, volunteer programs also connect schools more closely to their communities. Superintendents, teachers, and parents that are active as volunteers share a better understanding and deeper commitment to common goals. Parent volunteers get to know the teachers, the other students and their parents, and the school in which their child is a student.

Volunteer programs within school districts also provide valuable community service opportunities for students. Students’ experience as tutors, mentors, or in other volunteer roles can be a positive inclusion on job and college applications, and in preparing them for additional responsibilities. Some schools, in fact, require that students perform community service prior to graduation.

Managing Volunteers is an Administrative Challenge

Many school districts use un-automated processes to manage volunteer programs. These systems, using paper or spreadsheets, present a significant challenge for school administrators. The task can occupy a large portion of a workweek and cause duplication of work.

Given the tight budgets of most school districts, and the special scrutiny on administrative costs, this kind of time commitment is a substantial burden.

And for teachers and coaches, the time spent in a paper-based system is time not spent with students.

Managing paper forms in districts that rely on paper to manage their volunteer program, the administrator needs to prepare, distribute, and collect the information in the paper forms. Thousands of “requests to volunteer” are submitted via mail, drop-off, email, or fax.

This paperwork can get increasingly burdensome over time, considering that volunteers may be submitting new forms every year. One volunteer can easily produce several different forms.

Recording on spreadsheets once the paper forms are submitted, the program administrator needs to record the information into a consolidated format, typically a spreadsheet. Updating the spreadsheet requires finding and replacing old data. Given the number of volunteers, this spreadsheet can be very large and difficult to maintain.

In some instances, the spreadsheet may be broken into multiple spreadsheets; for example, there may be a separate one for athletic volunteers. Though it means slightly smaller spreadsheets, it does require that the school administrator maintain more than one.

Routing and tracking via email and phone calls With a paper-based process, school administrators are likely to rely primarily on email and telephone calls to manage the volunteer program. In order to collect, update and report on the status of requests, they are constantly emailing and calling teachers and coaches, volunteers, other administrators, the school board, the background checking service, and others.

The Volunteer Tracker Solution

The Volunteer Tracker solution helps teachers and school administrators coordinate volunteers in K-12 schools, helping to get the most value from these additional resources.

Volunteer Tracker automatically coordinates school volunteers, managing schedules, background checks, and matching volunteers’ skills and interests to the needs of teachers.

Unlike manual processes, Volunteer Tracker eliminates the need for teachers and school administrators to use paper forms and unwieldy spreadsheets to manage volunteers. All information is collected, updated, and retrieved automatically, and are generated quickly. The result: less paperwork, more effective use of volunteers, and more productive use of teachers’ and administrators’ time.

Volunteer Tracker is part of the app-garden suite of solutions developed by Cook Consulting. With more than 20 years of experience serving more than 100 school districts, the company understands the specific needs of K–12 school administrators. Its solutions are easy to use, and they are supported by experienced experts.


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