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Reflect, Plan, Lead

Reflect, Plan, and Lead

What insights and lessons can be unpacked from the previous school year? Dr. Charan Cline, Superintendent of Redmond School District, shares how he uses reflective practice to identify both bright spots and challenges. Listen as Dr. Cline elaborates on how scorecard and survey results are an opportune moment for reflection before diving into decision-making.

The Challenge

The Redmond School District faced significant organizational and communication challenges, particularly in effectively managing its operations and setting clear goals. Dr. Charan Cline, the district superintendent, noted a gap in preparing educational leaders to handle the complexities of running a multi-million dollar organization. This lack of structured processes led to unclear priorities and fragmented communication among educators and administrators, hindering the district’s ability to track and improve key performance metrics essential for student success.

Improved communication and goal alignment among district leaders, principals, and department heads were key outcomes of our implementation.

The Solution

Scorecard

To address these challenges, Dr. Cline and his team implemented a district-wide scorecard process. They simplified and cascaded goals from the district level down to individual departments and schools, providing a strategic framework for setting clear objectives and monitoring progress. Regular meetings and collaborative sessions were established to facilitate meaningful discussions, promote goal alignment, and enhance accountability across the district.

The Outcome

The implementation of the district scorecard process resulted in transformative outcomes for the Redmond School District:

  • Improved Communication: Enhanced clarity and goal alignment among district leaders, principals, and department heads.
  • Tangible Improvements in Student Outcomes: Increased reading proficiency and reduced chronic absenteeism.
  • Increased Collaboration and Collective Purpose: Educators fostered a stronger sense of collective purpose through shared learning and collaboration.
  • Empowered Leadership: Structured reflection and decision-making processes empowered leadership to drive continuous improvement and innovation in education.

Through the implementation of a strategic scorecard process, the Redmond School District successfully overcame organizational and communication challenges, leading to significant improvements in student outcomes and fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement among educators and administrators. This structured approach empowered leadership to set clear goals, monitor progress effectively, and drive positive change across the district, ultimately enhancing the overall educational experience for students in Redmond.

Episode Transcript

Charan Cline: The more consistent you are and the clearer you are, the better people respond.

[Intro music plays in background]

Introduction

Janet Pilcher: Hello everyone. Welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host, Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning in this week as we focus on what it takes for leaders to achieve important outcomes. And we engage in this work because we want our high-performing employees to stay with us, be engaged, and to be connected.

Last week I caught up with Dr. Kathy Oropallo, a leader coach at Studer Education, to talk about how she coaches partners to pause and evaluate effectiveness of past strategies and how to use those insights to set the stage for the upcoming school year.

On today’s episode, we’ll wrap up our focus on the practice of pausing and reflecting with one of Kathy’s partners, Dr. Charan Cline. Dr. Cline has served as the superintendent of Redmond School District in Redmond, Oregon since 2020. He began his career in the U.S. Army and was deployed during the First Gulf War. Dr. Cline’s time in the military is what shaped his desire to improve communities through public service. So when he returned, he spent six years as a high school social studies teacher before moving into administration. He’s now held roles as a middle school principal, a high school assistant principal, a district school improvement director, and superintendent of three districts.

He also has a doctorate in educational leadership from George Fox University. Dr. Cline is the recipient of an award for educational excellence from the University of Oregon Alumni Association and has been featured as a speaker and panelist at several conferences, including the Oregon School Board Association Bonds and Ballots Conference and our very own What’s Right in Education. I’m so excited to have Dr. Cline on our show today.

Interview

Janet Pilcher: It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Dr. Charan Cline to our show today. Welcome, Charan.

Charan Cline: Thank you for having me on, Janet. It’s very nice to be here.

Janet Pilcher: So let’s start because I’m very interested in the answer to this question and learning a little bit more about you. You started out in a family construction business and then joined the Army. So tell us a little bit about your background and then what led you to your education career.

Charan Cline: Well, that was all a very long time ago. But yeah, I grew up, my father was a builder for 40 years. Built a lot of custom homes, did industrial work, that kind of stuff. And I grew up kind of in a company. And I used to, I used to, I really started sweeping floors for my dad at 10 years old and pounding nails and learning the construction trade. And I did that all through high school. I used to skip class fairly often to go out and work. I remember working, we were doing a big job up at the local nickel mine, Hanna Nickel Mine at the time, and working, you know, going to school all day and then going working all night and that kind of thing.

So I kind of grew up in construction and my family was into that. You know, in high school, I was, I like to say I majored in wrestling, in football and wrestling.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. [laughs]

Charan Cline: And so those were my, really my highlights, the things that I did. And I had no idea, no conception of going to college or anything like that. It was not, not in my family’s plan and not something we were interested in doing.

My parents certainly weren’t interested in that. And so yeah, I just, I grew up in construction. That’s what I intended to do. But what happened was, you know, I mean, I graduated from high school and then I was in a car that night going down to Los Angeles to work on a housing project for the next four months kind of thing. And I was pretty much for the next year, almost a year after high school, just working for one job or the next. You know, I was 18 years old. I had no, no social life. I had, you know, no free time because it was sort of the family business.

After doing that for a year of like, you know, 16 hour days and you know, I used to get a half a day off Sunday to chop firewood kind of thing. I would go and kind of burn out. And I had no idea to do with myself. So I ran off and joined the Army, if you will. And so it was kind of a funny thing. I remember basic training being kind of a vacation compared to what I had—

Janet Pilcher: Compared to what you did? [laughs]

Charan Cline: Compared to what I did before. Yeah, I mean, it was easy. I got time to, you know, an hour every night to, you know, polish my boots and write a letter home. It was great. [laughs]

So kind of a different thing, but I joined up and decided I was going to join the Airborne Infantry. And so I was, I went to basic training. I was in the infantry, so basic training, one-stage unit training, then off to Airborne school after that.

Then I was off in the 82nd, then they sent me off to the 82nd Airborne Division. And I did pretty well with that. And so they sent me off to sniper school, and I became a scout and a sniper for them. And I did that for a while. And then I was levied to Germany, and I went over, that was West Germany at the time. And I went over there and served in a long-range surveillance unit for the 7th Corps, which is kind of a, you go out behind enemy lines and radio back what’s coming. It’s, you know, like super secret little, little four to six person teams. And it was before there was a really good satellite imagery. I don’t even think those existed—

Janet Pilcher: [laughs] Yeah.

Charan Cline: —because of satellites. But yeah, I think the, but the thing that the Army really taught me was about having a profession where I felt like I was making a difference in the world.

Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.

Charan Cline: You know, I felt like I was contributing something to something bigger than me. I guess when I was working construction, I just felt like I was working. I didn’t really see a purpose to it. But the idea of contributing to something that was bigger than who I was just really connected for me, for who I was and who I am as a person.

And so when I got out of the military, I originally planned on being a police officer because I thought that, that made a lot of sense. I was good at carrying guns and into, you know, athletics and kind of heavy labor and that sort of thing. And so that’s where I started off doing? I studied criminal justice at a community college for about a year. And I spent time interviewing for police forces and was doing pretty well and getting myself into a gig.

And then I, and then I was, summer came and I started working construction again with the family business. And about nine months out, I got into a major accident, and I tore my legs up with a, with a tractor. Had to get life flighted and the whole thing, but it took about a year and about seven surgeries to put me back together.

And so I was left at the end of that time period with still wanting to contribute to the world and make a difference in the world. And I needed a job that had low leg strength. And so I had been studying criminal justice and sociology and that sort of thing. And that made me think, “you know what?” And I was doing pretty well at it, you know, when I had never really been much of an academic when I was in high school. And when you’re in infantry, you mostly learn how to grunt. And so [laughs] your vocabulary goes out the window.

And so, yeah. And so I ended up going into a teacher’s college and became a social studies teacher. So kind of a long-winded way to get there. But my commitment to kind of improving the communities of Oregon has been deep. I’ve mostly worked in rural Oregon, committed to the idea of improving the rural communities in our state.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. But such a, I’m sure, and we’ll talk a little bit more about it as we go. I mean, part of what we’re talking about this month is reflection and looking back in the year and, and looking at strategy and looking at results and reflecting on them. You know, but just looking at what you did to prepare yourself to where you are today. I’m sure that you fall back on many of the lessons that you learned, I mean, from construction to the military, you know, they’re transitioning to a different profession. And I’m sure, you know, deep reflection when, you know, something external to what you’re thinking is took more control than what you could, right? I mean, something that made you change with the injury. And made you probably deeper reflect on what can I do to still have purpose in the world and contribute.

Charan Cline: Absolutely. Yeah.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And thinking about just your experiences, let’s talk about where you are in the work that you do leading your school district and looking back and reflecting on the school year. What are the highlights? You know, what are the things that have worked well for you this year as you think back over it, Charan?

Charan Cline: Well, you know, one of the things that really attracts me to the work that Studer is doing and teaching is the idea of really building a good organizational management structure. As I’ve gone through this, you know, I talked about my old past, my recent past, I’ve been at this for 29 years and 23 years as a school administrator. And one of the things I really feel like is lacking in my personal education profession as I was becoming a school administrator was how to run a multimillion-dollar organization, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. It’s so true. [laughs] Yeah.

Charan Cline: I mean, when you go and you’re learning how to be an administrator, I feel like at least my preparation, I felt like I was taught to be a better teacher, which was great. I mean, it was, I really learned a lot about teaching as I was going through administration. However, you know, I mean, this is a $200 million organization between construction and employees. We’re the largest employers in our town.

And, you know, and what do you really learn about business management? And I find that the work that I’ve been doing over the years, my own personal studies, has really been about that. How do you bring organizations together? How do you give them good purpose? How do you make them work as a team? Personally, I think what’s wrong with education in the United States is a lot more to do about how we organize it than about how we’re teaching kids any particular thing.

And so Studer’s work is fascinating to me because I think it boils down a lot of really good organizational practices and helps us put them into place in an educational setting, right? So the work we’ve done this last year, we’ve been working with Kathy Oropallo really about the last two years and we’re deeply involved in the scorecard process. With the Nine Principles, you can start pretty much anywhere, but we started with scorecards and that made a lot of sense for us on an organizational standpoint.

So two years ago, we really worked hard on the district scorecard. We created the district scorecard, we modeled the district scorecard. Monthly, I get the entire leadership team together and we would show the district scorecard and we would rate ourselves to see how we were doing and give ourselves kind of a stoplight score. And that was really meant to model that for all of our building leaders.

So this last year, we took our district scorecard and we simplified it. Our first year we found it was much too complicated and we simplified it, and we brought it down to both our building and our department levels. And so all of our buildings and all the departments have individual scorecards that are related to the district scorecard. They cascade down to that, but they’re also their own things. And so for each one of those, we give our building principals and our department directors some tight goals we want them to do, but then we also give them some loose methodologies of how to get there.

We also, based on our survey data, our public satisfaction surveys that we do, we get a sense of other things. And so people have created their own goals on that as well, but we’ve now allowed no more than two to three goals per kind of section as they relate through it. So we’ve worked through that.

It’s been interesting. I think that it’s not easy to stay on track, you know. Districts are very complicated things with all kinds of things going on. Lots of student interests, lots of community interests, lots of you know, lots of kind of competing priorities all the time. And our state is always developing the latest and greatest new idea they want to push down. And so we’re trying to integrate those things in.

But the real power of the scorecard, at least ours, is that continually to coming back on track, continually to ask ourselves, what are the main goals? What are the main things we’re trying to do, you know? I think my favorite sermon I ever heard was, “remember that the main thing is the main thing.” You know—

Janet Pilcher: [laughs] Yes.

Charan Cline: [laughs] Don’t let that tail, that tail wag the dog. And that’s, I think, what we have in schools all the time is trying to keep the main thing being the main thing.

Janet Pilcher: Got it.

Charan Cline: And so we’re working hard at that. So one of the things we’ve done is, you know, periodically we bring all of our teams’ stuff together and they share their scorecard with each other. And that’s been their most, their absolute favorite thing that we’ve done is when we bring people together by department and by schools and they share their work back and forth. And they get a chance to learn from each other and build what we call a collective consciousness, which is a concept we pulled from a different, different source. But trying to build that collective consciousness that we’re all working together, we’re all pushing forward on that. So yeah, a lot of stuff happening with that.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, it’s the process. You know, I always, I find myself saying many times now, Charan, you know, it’s putting systems in place that help people be deeply connected to the work. And so, I mean, the scorecard process, it’s setting the goals and helping people have the right meaningful conversations around those goals. That’s the most powerful piece collectively learning together and looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

You know, so just curious in those conversations, as you think back on last year, you know, what are the one or two things that have worked that you’ve, you’ve achieved and where are there areas where the scorecard has showed that you have gaps, you know, how’s that scorecard really helped you analyze and make those types of decisions and have that understanding?

Charan Cline: Well, one of the really good parts about the scorecard has been communication. We’ve done, we just recently did a kind of a second scorecard wrap up with our, we’re doing three of these with our school board to show them kind of where we’re going. And it’s been nice to be able to point to progress and show kind of where we’re going and where the data is improving. I mean, we’ve really, you know, work also on an implementation of a science of reading program. And so we’ve used the scorecard to track the work we’re doing that both with training and with student results. That’s been good. We’re currently running about 6% ahead of the both the national and the state norms on that in terms of in terms of data we use i-Ready assessment is looking through that. And so that’s been great.

Chronic attendance has been a problem all over the United States, and we certainly have it out here in Redmond, Oregon. But we’ve, we’ve been focusing on it, working on it. We’ve improved it over last year by about 5%.

Janet Pilcher: That’s good. I mean, those two, I mean, when you’re looking at the combination of those two areas and driving to those outcomes, I mean, you’re going to see those positive results, and outcomes seem so simple, but yet they’re not and it’s not. I mean, it’s a heavy lift, right? [laughs]

Charan Cline: Really, really hard to move those numbers. Yeah, you’re really talking about people’s, really trying to change both student and adult behavior with that.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely.

Charan Cline: And attitudes, and so it’s a lot. There’s a lot of winning hearts and minds out there.

In terms of gaps, we found a lot of gaps. We’ve not used our survey data as well as I’d like at this point. And so we’re trying to focus on that. I’d say our biggest thing that we’ve used it for has been the statistic on how students treat each other. Like lots of folks coming out of the pandemic, we’ve found our kids had regressed considerably on sort of social development and how they worked each other and how they solve problems. And so we have a huge focus on that. We work hard on that. We do pulse checks on that one as we’re working through that and trying to move that. We made progress on that last year. We’ll have to see how it looks this year. It’s been interesting as we work through that. So that’s been a gap.

I think it’s been a real gap on how we’ve kept our focus. I don’t think we’re as focused as we want to be. We’re working through that. I don’t think we’ve used rounding as effectively as we need to. And so there’s a lot of things that are kind of popping through as we come here that are going to give us focuses for next year.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And at least you are having those conversations and you know, you know, so just, you know, as you were talking about building that collective consciousness and having conversations, do you pull people together at sessions, Charan, and I mean, how do those conversations work? What structure do you use to engage in those conversations as leaders?

Charan Cline: Well, we have kind of a cascading set of meetings, if you will. We have our district leadership meeting, which meets once a month. It’s every leader in the district. Then we have our levels meetings. So these are levels, and they meet roughly once every two weeks.  These are secondaries, our elementaries, that sort of thing. And then we have our PLC meetings or professional learning communities that meet.

And through a lot of these, we try and keep a common thread of conversation of what we’re trying to do. And we’re trying to remove the information kind of up and down the line through that. We actually have structured our district meetings with a with a, with a rounding format. We will ask the four questions as we work through that meeting.

Janet Pilcher: Okay, yeah.

Charan Cline: And so we’ll ask about what are the things that are working well, and we have a share out and we talk about that. And we talk about, you know, what do you need? What are the gaps you’re experiencing? And the question we’ve asked, we’ve been asking specifically is, what is getting in the way of you doing your best work? And that’s when you just say, “tell me about something that’s not working,” nobody says anything. But if you ask, you ask a question more like, “what’s getting in the way?” then specific things come out, and those, and sometimes those are things you can you can jump on a fix. Sometimes they’re bigger problems to work through the issues of funding or stuff.

But, but as we’re asking, you know, sometimes we can deal with those little things pretty quick. And that’s kind of nice. That builds faith with all of our folks that were listening and we’re working on stuff. But as we bring that information through, we kind of keep this this structure of conversation so people know what’s coming. You know, I have the entire thing written out in terms of accountability. You know, so looking at our accountability of when are our administrators supposed to do certain things, when are they going to report on it. You know, we have built into our district meetings, for instance, for 30 and 90 new employee conversations. And so we’ll, we’ll talk with that. We’ll have people bring back that information for us. So that gets shared out to everybody.

Again, then we share our scorecards with each other periodically so people know what everybody is doing. And we do that a couple different levels with this idea is that we’re trying to learn from each other and kind of build ourselves as a team, as opposed to just a collection of schools.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Charan Cline: We’ve got 13 schools in our district and even with that size, and that’s kind of a small to medium size depending where you’re at in, in the United States, but those, even just trying to get those 13 different entities to work together is tough.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and what I hear too is they know what’s coming. They know the consistency that you’ve put in and how they’re going to report out, what the questions are going to answer. You know, they’re proactively looking for answers to those questions before they come which is, which is so critical.

Charan Cline: We’re not here to surprise people; we’re here to help them help them be better at what they do.

Janet Pilcher: So important. You can just see the natural connection to your background, and this, and the good systematic structure, and really applying those practices and building that collective conversation to help build those improvements.

You know, as we close today, just to kind of connect it back a little bit to you, as you think about where you are in your professional life as a leader, looking at the reflections of the last year and what you’ve learned from kind of the management aspect of the work that we do and what you referred to, what lessons have you learned? What do you carry forward with you going into next year as you grow as a leader?

Charan Cline: Well, a lot of things to learn. I think that we find ourselves wanting to become more specific. I find myself wanting to give people more information to work with. As a cabinet team, we’ve been working on doing a book study on Hardwiring Excellence in Education. That’s been it’s been a good tool. We’re going to do that as a whole district next year. Well, leadership part of the district.

I find myself working through, you know, using, using stoplights and using plus deltas and kind of trying to create consistency in the tools that we use. I think from a leadership standpoint, it’s really about the idea of how do we communicate well so people know what’s coming? They know what the goals are. We’re putting our resources behind that, and people can feel confident that the work that they do is supported by everybody. I mean, the more supported they feel and the better they understand what the vision is, the less questions people have to ask. They know just what to do, and that saves a lot of time and energy. And I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but we’re working that way. You know, we’ll cascade the scorecard process down into our professional learning communities next year. And again, try and make this thing tighter.

In terms of what I’m learning as a leader, I think what I’m learning is the more consistent you are and the clear you are, the better people respond. It’s less about being brilliant and more about being clear and being helpful to people. And so that we will be understanding what we’re supposed to be doing and we understand what our resources are to get there. People tend to get there.

So I don’t know if any major ah-has this year. It’ll be mostly about continuing to do the work that we’re doing and continuing to get better at it.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, but what you said, I mean, what you just said in terms of the, I’ve learned that, um, you know, I’ve been three decades-ish, Charan, you know, in work, and most of those in leadership positions. And at the end of the day, it is exactly what you said. When you build clarity, when people understand what the direction is, when you nurture and guide them and give them the support and resources and help build confidence in them and have confidence in you, and then, you know, kind of get out of their way but help them when they need that help. But make sure you have the systems where they’re continuing to engage in conversations. It becomes natural.

Again, it seems so easy. I say this so many times. It seems so easy. But applying that leadership is heavy and difficult and hard. And you’ve done that heavy lifting and appreciate what you’ve done as a leader. And I know your team does as well. So thank you for sharing your insights a lot for all of us to learn from what you’ve communicated with us today. Thank you so much.

Charan Cline: Well, thank you for having me on, Janet. It’s been fun.

Conclusion

[Outro music plays in the background.]

 

Janet Pilcher: As we approach the end of the school year, I urge you to take time to pause and engage in thoughtful reflection. Finding the time can be difficult, but this deliberate practice lays the groundwork for informed decision making and future success. Take some time to pause and reflect.

Next week, you’ll get to hear from our partners in Onalaska, Wisconsin, on everything from cascading strategic plan goals to the hardwired practices that are making the most difference in their organization.

And as always, I thank you for tuning in to this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work. Have a great week, everyone.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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