Needs Based Authorizing: Designing a Process to Fill the Gaps (Part 2 of 2)

Needs Based Authorizing: Designing a Process to Fill the Gaps (Part 2 of 2)

Written by Margo Roen, Chief of New Schools & Accountability, Achievement School District

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of needs based authorization—authorizing to “fill the gaps” in a district or school portfolio—and introduced the two conditions for creating high-quality public schools for every student: 1) high-quality charter partners ready to take on the challenges of turnaround work; and 2) authorizers with an intentional strategy for recruiting and selecting operators that meet their unique needs and locales.

Effective needs based authorizing touches everything about the authorization process, including how to recruit and select evaluators, the application materials, and resources for applicants. Why and how the process changes is defined by the needs of either your district, city, and state, as well as the students and families being served.

Clarifying and quantifying this need takes time, and requires both quantitative and qualitative data. But, in taking the time to gather and interpret the data available, you will get an understanding of the needs of both your school portfolio and the community at large.  We look at our needs through three lenses: strategic clarity, supply and demand, and stakeholder feedback.

Strategic Clarity

First, you must know what you are about. “Who am I serving and to what ends will I serve?”
The answers, if not already defined by your mission and vision statements, must be clarified prior to launching a needs based authorization process. These answers are your north star and should show up as a continuous thread throughout all of your authorization and restart work.

Supply & Demand

You need to identify the gaps and be able to quantify the need. In addition to knowing what your needs are, the practical application of supply and demand principles will illuminate your gaps.
For example, you might need 3,000 new elementary seats in a certain neighborhood to address a population boom. Or, like the ASD, you might need to turn 35,000 low-quality seats into high-quality ones. In thinking about supply, we had to determine the number of quality seats already in the pipeline:

  • How many schools/seats have we already authorized?
  • Are there other quality options aligned with the need in the neighborhood?

From there, you can view your quantity from a variety of dimensions including grade division, locality, model type, and quality. To stack up this pipeline against the demand, or the total number of seats that must be addressed to fulfill the mission/strategy, we asked ourselves:

  • How many seats are needed to fulfill our mission (e.g., 10,000 high-quality seats by 2018)?
  • What specific areas do we need to address?
  • Where is there a dearth of options?

Being honest about the opportunities and challenges in your area will ultimately define the needs, not just of your organization, but of the parents and students you serve.

Stakeholder Feedback

You must understand the interest and desires of those you intend to serve as well as those you hope to partner with. After all, schools happen in and with communities. To gather stakeholder feedback we asked ourselves:

  • Who informs and is impacted by our mission and strategy?
  • In what ways can we engage members of our community to determine interest and need?
  • How can we create a process to vet our plan prior to launch?
  • What new pathways can we utilize to engage potential charter partners, both locally and nationally?

Internal and external stakeholders will provide a critical eye and thoughtful, impact-oriented feedback about your authorizing strategy. Omitting their input on the front-end can lead to an out of tune strategy, or worse, a wholly unwanted one; while meaningfully soliciting stakeholder input can lead to real and sustained change, as you execute your strategy and fulfill your mission.

Needs are not static.

By defining the need, you explain the challenge and opportunity of your work in support of a comprehensive and cohesive mission and strategy. As you address those needs, and as your context and work changes, so will your authorizing process. Revisiting the need before each authorization cycle will ensure that your practices adapt with the context. Building in a continuous improvement cycle to ensure better alignment with your mission and strategy will lead to consistently better outcomes for kids.


Margo Roen serves as the Chief of New Schools and Accountability at Tennessee’s Achievement School District, where she oversees the charter authorizing, portfolio growth, and district and school accountability work. She originally joined the district as the Director of New Schools in August 2011, leading the recruitment, authorization, school start-up, and matching of high quality operators with Tennessee’s lowest performing schools for transformation and later served as the Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer of the district. Prior to this role, Margo taught high school math and Physics and served as an administrator in pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in both a traditional school and charter school setting. She was also deeply involved in the large-scale education reform in New Orleans, working with multiple nonprofits to restart their region after the hurricane (TFA, TNTP). Margo holds a degree in Arts Administration from Tulane University and a Masters in Educational Policy (M.P.P.) from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.

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