A Day in the Life
The Broad Residency Class of 2012-2014
Green Dot Public Schools
Cluster Business Manager
I hit the snooze button.
Before the kids wake up, I like to review and respond to any of the previous day’s non-urgent emails. I don’t have many today, leaving me about 30 minutes to review some budget details for my forecast meeting later in the afternoon.
The kids are still asleep, allowing me to head to the gym without too much commotion so I can work out before officially starting the day. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am an “early bird” when it comes to working out. I enjoy it, I feel energized and it sets the mood for the day, so long as I leave before the kids wake.
The kids are awake, so nothing much gets done but breakfast and bed hair.
In Los Angeles, the one thing you can count on is traffic. I have two separate budget meetings today with my Westside principals. I live on the other side of Los Angeles, and a 25-mile commute is an hour-plus drive. Nonetheless, being an Angeleno, I’m used to it. It gives me a chance to collect my thoughts because neither of these schools met their enrollment numbers. We now must review the budget to look for savings. A district might carry on with the year, but at least with my organization, we need to be as fiscally vigilant as possible.
I arrive at school and stretch.
Before we get into the details on the budget, I ask the middle school principal how he is doing. This school shares a campus with a district-run elementary school. The school is in its second year and now has sixth- and seventh-grade classes. The beginning of the year was tumultuous, with facilities not being ready and custodial issues. However, he tells me that things are calming down.
The school missed its enrollment target by a large margin, so we discuss some of the possible reasons for the miss and make note of items to revisit in the winter as we prepare for the next recruitment season. My goal for this meeting is to go through each line item with him and identify potential savings. The one caveat is that we will not cut teachers. The meeting goes well, we find some common-sense cuts, and there is a case to be made against further cuts on behalf of the students. We come to a good point and set up a follow-up meeting for the following week, after I present to the CFO. I say goodbye to the office staff and head out.
I decide to grab lunch before my next budget meeting and take advantage of the moment to catch up on emails.
I arrive at the high school and settle in. I am still getting to know the staff and have to ask for names again. Considering I’m the business manager for six schools, that means six sets of office staff: principals, assistant principals, counselors, department heads, etc. I’ve committed to have the names memorized by next month! Here, I know the principal’s name.
The principal tells me that this process scares her. To help ease her concerns, I remind her that the margin by which she missed her enrollment target is small. But before we get into the budget, I also ask her about why she thinks they missed the target. I am really interested to hear this, since this high school is an established school with its own campus. I want to better understand the roles and responsibilities between the schools and the home office when it comes to recruiting. We eventually dive into the budget and find some healthy savings that I feel comfortable presenting to the CFO. I bid farewell and make my way to the home office.
I spend an hour in traffic.
My boss calls this the forecast-a-thon. There are three business managers and each of us has a cluster of six schools. My peers and I each choose a budget from one of our schools and we review each line item to ensure we are forecasting consistently across all 18 schools. I really enjoyed that meeting because it helped me gain a deeper understanding as someone who does not have a finance background.
During the drive home, I take a moment to think about my impact today. It was a long day, but it felt satisfying. As the school’s business manager, I spend about 75 percent of my time on finance and 25 percent on operations — but most importantly, I am 100 percent dedicated to supporting my schools. Not only am I an escalation point for the school administrators and office staff, but my interactions with the schools are what helps put the human element behind the spreadsheets for the folks back in the home office.
I help the kids build and break Legos, then it is bath time and bedtime for them.
I need time to catch up on emails. I read, reply and tag those for the next morning.
My three-year-old son wakes me up, asking for juice. We get his juice. Then I tuck him in and head back to bed.
I keep thinking about my day and have a hard time falling back asleep. Today will be a first for me: I will be sitting in on an instructional leader team meeting as they discuss their budgets. Later, I will be talking to the school’s advisory council — which includes parents, students and teachers — to discuss the school's overall financial health. I am concerned because there will be fewer students enrolled next year, meaning fewer dollars in the budget.
I decide to get up and go for a swim to help clear my mind.
I get home, anticipating a quiet house, but my two-year-old is up already and wired. My wife and I manage to work around him and get ready for the day.
I review the emails I tagged the day before.
My three-year-old is up now and the focus turns to breakfast and getting all of us out of the house.
I head to the office.
Most of my schedule is clear except for the two meetings later in the day. I spend the first half of the day reviewing the school’s current financial forecast to gauge if they are ahead of the budget. Having a good pulse on how well the school is doing is critical because this high school may be able to purchase items for next year with the current budget; we want to minimize expenses for the upcoming school year. This is important because this high school’s enrollment will be reduced by about 80 students, which translates to about $500,000 less for the upcoming school year. The Green Dot model relies on small schools of about 600 students to create a more intimate environment to help kids learn.
I feel confident that the school is ahead of the current budget. I contact the principal and we agree that we should spend conservatively. We will use a portion now and keep the rest in reserves for the latter part of year. We also discuss our approach to the meetings. Because of the school's smaller enrollment, it has been decided that three teachers will be removed.
I have a quiet lunch.
I review my notes for the teacher meeting and touch up my presentation for the school advisory council.
During a pre-meeting with the principal, she and I once again review the budgets submitted by the department heads. We determine what items we can buy this year versus next year and what other items we can reject. In addition, she expresses concern over the athletic department’s budget. She is at a crossroads between balancing the budget and keeping the school’s culture intact. She wants to further avoid impacting the school’s morale. We agree to have an open conversation with the department heads regarding the amount of money that is being spent on the sports program. We have a commitment to it, but it is important for everyone to understand its actual expense.
The instructional leaders meeting starts, and the department heads share their budgets and make motions to move other items as higher priorities. The good news is that many of the departments’ recommendations sync up with the earlier work the principal and I did. In addition, the department heads are eager to purchase some of the major items this year. Once we move to the athletic budget, it’s apparent that this is a contentious topic. The principal makes a case to reduce athletic costs, but some do not want to budge, and some volunteer to further reduce their own budgets to protect athletics. This is the opposite of what I anticipated.
I propose to keep the sports program, we not only implement a strict absenteeism policy for the athletes but also significantly increase the required grade-point average to play sports. I ask, “Why are we investing so much in our athletic program when, in return, we are only asking athletes to be average?” My ideas receive overwhelming support and a motion was made to lay out the policies and implement them next year. The department budgets end in a decent place. We end the meeting as some of us in the room need to make our way down the hall to the school advisory council meeting.
At the advisory council meeting, I present the budget and projected revenue shortfall for the upcoming school year. I receive few questions, but there is plenty of chatter. The council understands the school's financial position and agrees to two of three proposals for cost reductions.
After the meeting, the principal is visibly upset. I am supportive, reminding her that she is doing a good job of being honest with people. At this point, that’s the best we can do. I remind her, though, that this is the first draft that will be submitted for review. There is still a chance the board will require further cuts. She reluctantly acknowledges that and says, “Go home, it’s Friday night and you’ve been extremely helpful. We need to put this week behind us.”
On my drive home, I feel relieved that the day is over. I was nervous to present critical information and recommendations to a group of people who don’t know me well. After both meetings, several people expressed their gratitude for my help, which felt good. I got much closer to balancing the school’s budget and look forward to it getting approved.
Since it’s Friday night, I leave my laptop in my book bag and look forward to movie night with the family and eventually going to sleep. It’s been about a 20-hour day.
Normally, by this time I’m wide awake and would have already returned from the gym. But last night after work, I played a game of pick-up basketball with some high school students. This morning, I realize that I am not in high school shape.
I wobble my way through the morning, helping my wife with the kids. Once they are off for the day, I work from home, catch up on emails and prepare for a meeting with a principal about the school’s food services.
The interesting thing about this meeting is that this site houses two separate schools. Each school is its own entity, with its own principal and its own school culture. However, the inherent nature of sharing the same site presents operational opportunities that can benefit the whole campus, such as sharing the same food vendor. This would help in prepping time and maximizing space and schedules.
Unfortunately, after meeting with the food vendors, each school selected a different vendor. One vendor’s per-meal cost is higher than the other. After personally sampling meals from both vendors, I did not notice a difference in taste and could not justify the higher cost. In addition, we collected data from 100 students and parents during a blind food-tasting fair. The vendor with the more affordable per-meal costs scored higher in the taste surveys. With school budgets due the following week, vendor selections must be finalized. Before doing so, I need to try to convince the principal to select the less-expensive vendor. I spent the morning reviewing the school’s budget and documenting the potential increase in operational expenses. I also document my thoughts on the logistical hurdles of having to manage two food vendors during overlapping lunch periods in such a small lunch area.
I have a quiet lunch.
I travel to the school site and the principal is ready to talk. We discuss why she preferred one vendor over the other. Part of the reasoning is taste, but she also wants to maintain the same vendor since they have an existing relationship. When I share the taste survey results, she is not interested. But the cost savings pique her interest. We discuss what we could do with the savings from selecting the lower-cost vendor. She likes the idea of outfitting her math classrooms with computers to help introduce a new math curriculum. We review the per-computer costs, the number of computers we could order and make the numbers work. We both feel good about the compromise and believe the overall net effect is that for the upcoming school year, meal service will be smoother and her teachers will be happy with additional resources to help the students.
I share the good news with the other school’s principal. She is ecstatic to hear we are moving forward with the same vendor.
I decide to head home and beat traffic. Plus, my back is demanding I lie down.
I arrive home, take some aspirin and eventually have dinner with the family.
I catch up on emails and happily update my budgets. I’m almost done with my six schools’ budgets. I am looking forward to turning them in over the next few days because, after a long school year, the family and I are going on vacation next week!
The new school year is in full swing, but today is going to be an interesting day. We got word late on Friday night that we were going to be short on meals for Monday, so we sprang into action. I spent the weekend ordering 200 large pizzas and convincing pizza shop owners that this is not a prank. I bought several hundred food and drink items at Costco. I gave my principals notice over the weekend, so they were aware of the potential logistical hurdles that awaited. It is going to be a busy morning, so I get up, ensure the truck is packed and head out.
My first stop is a middle school, and I need to drop off cereal bars before breakfast as well as juices and snacks for lunch. I get there in time and recruit a few sixth graders to help me unload. Eventually the principal arrives to thank me for my help in ensuring the students are well nourished and their morning starts off well.
As I drive to my next stop, I think about the principal thanking me for feeding the kids. It really never occurred to me that’s what I was doing. He helped me crystallize that it was not just another project, but instead was FOOD to help keep our students motivated and engaged for the rest of the day.
This is my last and biggest stop. There are two schools in this complex with more than 1,100 students. I ask the campus safety officer to help me unload the food and get some volunteers. Eventually, we get all of the items out of my truck and situated at the school. I dust off my dress shirt and slacks — one of the principals noted my inappropriate delivery attire when she thanked me for my help — and head out to a meeting at another school site.
I arrive at the school and get some lunch before heading into a meeting with the principal. As I sit down to eat, I receive a call from the high school principal who I saw earlier in the morning. She is panicking because the pizza has not arrived and lunch is half over. Before I take a bite of my food, I call the pizza shop. They are running behind schedule and are apologetic. I reemphasize the need to be timely because schools run on a schedule. I call the principal and give her the bad news that the pizzas would not arrive during the normal lunch period. She is not happy but considering the extraordinary circumstances of the day, she makes an executive decision to rearrange the schedule for the day to accommodate the situation. The pizza arrives about 10 minutes after lunch ended, but because of her creative thinking, the students still get a lunch.
I head to my principal meeting to review a few budget items. When he asks how I’m doing, I explain my day. He laughs and said, “I bet you didn’t think that would be part of the job when joining The Broad Residency.” The obvious answer is no, but I laughed and told him that it actually felt good. There have been plenty of projects in my professional career that have given me a feeling of satisfaction, but this one goes a little deeper. I think it’s because as a parent, I would hate to see my two boys go without eating for the day. Knowing that I was part of a project that, regardless of how stressful or chaotic, fed hundreds of boys and girls was extremely satisfying. Although I am exhausted, we continue with our budget meeting.
By this time, I am truly exhausted and decide to head home, beat traffic and get some rest.
I relax with the family until bedtime.
I catch up on some emails and call it a night. There are no deliveries tomorrow, but I’m willing to step in if needed!
There is nothing unusually exciting about today. I have a principal meeting scheduled at one of my middle schools, and I have a meeting with the office manager of that same school. So I’ll be at the middle school most of the day. I get up and begin checking emails.
The kids wake up, and I have to stop checking email because my four-year-old tells me that it’s too early for “homework.” The family morning routine starts. My meetings are at a school near my home, so my commute won’t be that intense.
I drive to the middle school and remember that the new picnic tables should be set up. The school was established on a campus that was vacated by a high school. Although some items were left behind, not everything was in good condition — like the lunch tables. I advocated to the senior management team to allow the middle school to order new equipment. The school had not budgeted for such a large purchase but ultimately we all agreed that the purchase would be in the best interest of the students.
I meet with the principal. At the end of our meeting, he says, “You need to see this.” He takes me out to the lunch area and tells me how happy and grateful he is that we were able to get the tables. He says they have changed the culture of the school and given the students a viable social environment. This really sinks in after the principal calls over two boys and tells them that I was the person responsible for getting the new lunch tables. The boys’ eyes light up and they reach out to shake my hand and thank me. I am blown away by their genuine happiness and thanks. Ultimately, the work I do helps these students. To experience a clear and straightforward thank you from them was really special and helps refocus why I do this work.
I have lunch in the teachers’ lounge and catch up on emails.
The office manager and I review budget numbers and discuss other operational items. I share with him my experience with the two boys and the lunch tables. He further adds how thankful he is that lunch is much, much more upbeat and that the lunch tables have made a big difference.
I check some more emails before hitting the road.
From the middle school, I head out to a doctor’s appointment.
I am home. I have dinner and share my experience with my wife. While discussing it with her, I got choked up, particularly considering the students’ circumstances. They live in a neighborhood in Watts not far from where I grew up, and it isn’t known for producing much positive news. I was moved by how appreciative the two boys were. My wife, a former elementary school teacher, tells me how important it is to remember these moments because they motivate us to continue doing our best for the next group of kids. Those bright spots really make a difference. This simple experience really did help me witness a tangible impact.
I decide to call it a night and spend some quality time with the kids.
Why did you join The Broad Residency?
I was inspired by the challenge of being involved in a leadership program that’s focused on improving schools in challenged environments similar to the ones where I grew up. As a first-generation American growing up in inner-city Los Angeles, I experienced what it is to struggle and persevere in obtaining an education and felt that The Broad Residency would allow me to help others in similar circumstances.
How is your work improving educational opportunities for the students in your system?
I support seven school principals by managing the finance and operations of their schools, providing them with additional bandwidth to focus on teachers, students and the overall academics of their campus.
What was the most important lesson you learned during the Residency?
Relationships are key. Simply listening, connecting and being sincere goes a long way as compared to presenting a data point on a PowerPoint slide.
Briefly describe your capstone project: What were your goals, what did you achieve and how did that impacted or will impact the organization?
I did not have a project in the traditional sense. My work as the cluster business manager was to budget, forecast and manage operational issues for the schools. The biggest impact was helping to reconcile what we demanded from our principals against what they were being evaluated on — and making it relevant to the principal. For example, if our revenue is driven by enrollment and average daily attendance, as the business manager, I’d work with principals to create marketing plans to boost enrollment and retention strategies to increase average daily attendance. Identifying how to best help principals with the non-academic items made the biggest impact.
What was your vision for your career trajectory before you joined the Residency? How has it shifted?
Before the Residency, I had a general idea of my career trajectory, but it was always murky. I felt as though I was going through the motions, simply working for the next promotion or next big offer but not feeling personally satisfied.
Now, my motivation is about making the biggest impact for students. That passion is something the Residency helped me experience and, most importantly, identify as a required component for my career.
What will you miss the most about being in the Residency?
I made many new friends in my cohort and will miss the many great conversations we had.
What advice do you have for someone contemplating applying for the Residency? What advice do you have for new Residents?
If you are considering the Residency, do it if you are sure you are committed to the mission. It will make the long nights and frustrating moments worth it.
For new Residents, be sure to enjoy the moments with your cohort. Before you know it, it will be time to graduate.