Ashley McGrath serves as Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives with Camden City School District.
While driving into the office I get a call that one of our schools has no power in the cafeteria or hallways. Classrooms still have power, so they are going to serve breakfast in the classrooms and do a staggered morning transition to make sure all students are safe.
I hang up and call our chief operating officer so she can deploy folks from the district maintenance team. After chatting briefly with her, I pull my car over to send a quick group text letting our leadership team know what’s going on in case parents start calling the family support center.
I get to my desk and try to clean out my email. There are about 35 emails waiting for me. I check my calendar for the day, make sure that I’m ready for all of my meetings and jot down a quick to-do list of items that MUST be completed before I leave for the day.
I join a planning meeting for an upcoming staff meeting at one of our high schools. Together, we decide on an agenda for the meeting. We brainstorm a list of items we can celebrate and areas where there is work to be done. I leave with a few more things on my to-do list.
I run to a check-in with our chief of staff. We compare past cabinet meeting agendas to organizational goals and discuss upcoming agenda items. We quickly touch on projects I’m working through — including a few upcoming central office events — complete a function mapping analysis and discuss how I will approach my direct report’s mid-year review.
I attend the school support leadership team meeting. The team currently has no chief of staff, and I’ve been asked to play a supporting role. I help our deputy chief of staff manage follow-ups and play a connective role between her, members of her team and cabinet members.
I run to a weekly check-in with our chief engagement officer. We agree to do a walking meeting and head to the cafeteria to grab lunch while we talk. There are several family meetings, a few community meetings, a board meeting and a central office town hall for which we need materials. We divide and conquer next steps and quickly create an agenda for a meeting we are co-facilitating later.
The chief engagement officer and I head to a meeting with our school-focused operations team. In advance of winter weather, we need to align on emergency communication protocols. I agree to take notes and turn them into a process map that our team and schools can use.
I head back to my desk for the first time all day. I have about 50 emails waiting for me and my lunch is cold. I quickly run through emails and start digging into my to-do list while I eat.
- Confirm a student performance for the upcoming end-of-year staff party
- Create a PowerPoint and talking points for the upcoming board meeting
- Email cabinet members to share next week’s meeting agenda
- Send two open public records requests
- Call the union to give them a heads-up about upcoming staff meetings
I co-lead a board meeting planning group. We quickly debrief on the notes from the last meeting, assign roles for the evening and run through the meeting agenda.
I run downstairs to see a colleague who just returned from maternity leave. We catch up on what’s been going on since we last saw each other, then quickly pivot to talking about work.
I run upstairs for a quick check-in with the superintendent’s special assistant. We confirm that the superintendent’s calendar is good to go for the rest of the week, discuss what’s she’s working on and set a date for her mid-year review.
I join the superintendent and members of the cabinet for an external affairs check-in. I provide an update on our engagement calendar and review a proposal for a teacher appreciation event.
I’m back at my desk. I push through email, create a to-do list for the next day and send out follow-up emails to my colleagues. I also prepare for tomorrow’s meetings.
It’s already super dark outside, so I decide to head home. On the walk to my car, I order take-out and pick it up on the way home.
I eat on my couch while I watch a few sitcoms on my DVR.
I log into my computer to work on the mid-year evaluation, but I spend most of the time sifting through emails and flagging items that require a follow-up. I log into the mid-year review system, get about halfway through and realize that I have more desk time than usual tomorrow. So I decide to finish it then!
I spend some time catching up on my own to-do list. I pay a few bills, clean out the refrigerator, order Christmas presents and cross my fingers that they’ll make it in time, load the dishwasher and throw a load of laundry into the washing machine — all while on a phone call with a college friend.
I squeeze in one more sitcom and end up falling asleep in the middle of it. I wake up on the couch and head to bed. Tomorrow, I have fewer meetings, and I’m jazzed to power through my to-do list, clean out my email and eat my lunch while it’s still warm.
I drive into the office. On the way I join a conference call with our chief of staff, chief talent officer and chief engagement officer about a temporary space plan for a school reconstruction project. We recently received some input that may shift the plan in a different direction. During the call, we discuss our options, draft a list of questions for our superintendent and agree on next steps.
I run into the office to set up for my presentation during our district update meeting. Our district is in the middle of a state compliance audit. I’m coordinating the audit, so I will share our progress.
I join our cabinet for the district meeting. During my presentation, our team is peppered with questions about district finances, instruction, personnel, governance and operations.
I head back to my desk to finalize the audit sessions for the next day.
I’m working with principals, school staff and our school support team to set up a series of teacher focus groups. I finalize RSVPs, coordinate with our host principal and send out last-minute reminders to attendees
I head across the street to grab a quick lunch. While I walk, I call one of our high school leaders to plan a visit to his building.
I get a call from our board president, who wants a full summary of our self-evaluation from the audit. I share the information I have and then send a flurry of emails to my colleagues to get answers to her other questions.
I head downstairs for a two-hour training session on our new online attendance system. Our district currently uses a paper-based attendance system.
I finally get a chance to dig into my email. I have nearly 70 emails waiting for me! I make a pretty decent dent over the course of an hour.
I head to my weekly check-in with our chief innovation officer. I’m managing spring engagement and school actions, so we work together to create a stakeholder map, lists of required materials and outstanding questions as well as an owners document to share tomorrow with the team.
I’m back at my desk, digging through the rest of my email and ticking through items on my to-do list. I take a quick break to check the news and realize that our region is expecting a significant amount of snow. I initiate our weather protocol and let the team know that we’ll have a series of conference calls over the next several hours to determine if we need to change tomorrow’s schedule.
As I drive home, I call our new senior director of facilities to make sure he’s prepared for the possibility of our first snow day of the year. We talk through the district’s notification process and he assures me that his team will be good
I head out for a quick run. If it’s really going to snow, I need to get outside before I can’t!
I make dinner and catch up on television while monitoring the weather and local closures.
I facilitate a conference call with district leadership, and we decide to call a snow day. I hang up and initiate our communication protocol. I monitor execution while Facebook posts, Twitter posts, news alerts and all-district emails and texts trickle out.
I clean up my calendar for the next day. I was supposed to have a number of meetings, so I quickly align with our team and we decide what we can cancel and what should be done via conference call.
I get in bed and spend a little bit of time reading before I fall asleep.
I wake up to a call from our chief operating officer letting me know that there was an emergency in one of our buildings that requires the school to close for the day. I quickly get the word out to our broader team and the school community via phone, text and email.
After I confirm that word is out, I get ready for the day and head to the office a bit earlier than normal. Because the day started with a surprise and I’m not sure what the rest of the day will bring, I want to have some desk time before people start to arrive.
I clear out my inbox and confirm my to-do list and priorities for the day. I go through my calendar and prepare the materials I need for the day.
Two of my colleagues and I are leading the hiring process for a new role in our district: climate and culture coordinator. We quickly discuss candidates who we’ll meet that day, pull resumes and prep for interviews. We run three back-to-back interviews that include general interview questions, a role-play exercise and an opportunity for candidates to ask us questions. Between interviews, we debrief, prepare for the next candidate and quickly eat our (cold) lunches.
I meet with two of my colleagues to review responses to a recently closed request for proposals. We use a rubric to determine which proposal best meets our needs and share our selection with the business office.
Our chief of staff and I meet with our school support leadership team to discuss a recent round of conversations with school leaders. As a district, we’ve been planning for upcoming staffing notifications and have been gathering feedback on proposed allocations. Our school support team flags a few areas of concern, and we discuss how to staff our schools adequately while monitoring spending.
I check my email for anything time sensitive, send a round of text messages to get updates on the morning’s school closure and call our facilities manager to determine if the building can open tomorrow. I run to the last interview of the day for the climate and culture coordinator role.
I join a planning meeting about pre-kindergarten allocations to discuss classrooms moving to new locations in the 2017-18 school year. In addition to a few staffing shifts, we need to think through food service options, moving materials, furniture, etc.
Although our facilities director has said that the building is cleared for school the next day, parts of the building must be closed off for a few additional days. To ensure we can accommodate all students and programs in the smaller space, I head to the building with our facilities team. As we walk the building, I’m on the phone with our chief operating officer, my colleague who manages high schools and my colleague who manages the school-based operations managers. We decide that the building can accommodate all students and staff in the morning, so I head back to my office to draft and send a comprehensive updates-and-next-steps email for colleagues.
I missed my check-in with my manager in the afternoon because I was at the building walk. So I call her while I drive home and we debrief the day.
When I get home, I create updates for meetings the superintendent is hosting tomorrow, clear out my inbox, eat dinner and watch some mindless television before I go to bed.
I head to my desk and quickly plan for the day. I run through my emails and quickly respond to the ones that don’t require any additional work or digging. I set aside any email that requires more than a minute to respond to address later in the day.
I join our talent team for a school-by-school update on summer staffing. With the first day of school quickly approaching, we’re working to finalize any outstanding placements, fill all remaining vacancies and identify the number of teachers starting the year on a leave of absence so that we can coordinate tightly with our school leaders and substitute-teacher vendor.
I’ve been invited to a ribbon cutting at a new school in Camden. Unfortunately, I have to skip it to create a communication/outreach process to notify families of changes to student busing policies this year. I clean up a data set of impacted students, turn it into a call log and draft guidance and directions for the nine staff members who will be calling nearly 350 families. Before sharing with the group, I shoot the trackers and directions to folks on our transportation, school support and communications teams for feedback.
I head to our weekly cabinet meeting. We run through our agenda, talk through district priorities, give updates on our First day of School planning and discuss a number of upcoming events, meetings and decisions.
I eat lunch at my desk and run through more emails, prep for meetings and check-ins taking place later in the day or week and run through a number of items on my to-do list.
I meet with people from our business office and food service team to discuss next steps for an annual state reporting initiative focused on the number of Camden families that receive free or reduced-price meals. We decide who will lead the coordination with our district schools and how we’ll approach it, in addition to how we will coordinate with our charter and Renaissance school partners.
I join a series of meetings to plan for our upcoming building move. We plan to relocate our entire central office to a vacant school by the winter, and I dig into details about budget, timeline, furniture set up and style, headcount and colors. We plan a series of walkthroughs and follow-up meetings with team leads to make sure that we have all the right information and that we’ve gathered feedback from all of the right individuals before putting in a final furniture order.
I spend a bit more time at my desk, popping in and out of my colleagues’ offices to follow up on outstanding items, respond to email and power through my to-do list.
I quickly change into gym clothes and head to a spinning class.
After spinning, I head home, make food and catch up on some television until it’s time for bed.
I start the day with an hour of desk time. I scan through my email and project plans to figure out what requires additional follow up. Then I create a to-do list for the day.
Our Communications team finalized the details for a press conference over the weekend so I call a number of our Board members to make sure they are up-to-date and planning on joining us for the event.
I join the Superintendent, members of our Communications team, and our Chief of Staff in our weekly External Affairs check-in. We run through upcoming parent, student and staff engagement, media events and stories, and strategize the best way to publicly share the District’s year-over-year progress on a NJ State compliance and auditing tool.
I’m back at my desk for a little while so I spend some time sending emails and following up with colleagues on to-dos for a number of different projects that I’m leading or supporting. The projects range from annual data and compliance reporting to relocating our home office, following up on questions and concerns raised at a recent community meeting to planning for a Core Values recognition event taking place at the Camden Aquarium later in the month.
My manager and I meet with one of the District’s contracted service providers. We’ve received feedback with concerns about the quality of service and want to make sure that we adjust course moving forward. The partner gives us an overview of where we can make changes and where we can’t, and we quickly create a plan to gather additional feedback from students, parents and community stakeholders.
I join members of our School Support team and the regional NJDOE team at a school for a building walk. We spend time chatting with students, staff, and observing instruction in both middle school and high school classrooms.
I end the day with two back to back check-ins: one with my direct report and one with our Chief of Staff and Chief Innovation Officer.
I head to my standard Monday night yoga class.
I head home, make a quick meal and watch some TV while I clear out my inbox for the next day.
May 7, 2018
Why did you join The Broad Residency?
After working in my organization for nearly 3 years, and being in education for 8, I was looking for an opportunity to push my leadership skillset to the next level and reinvigorate myself about working in public education. For me, the Broad Residency was a perfect fit.
How is your work improving educational opportunities for the students in your system?
During my time with the Camden City School District I’ve had the opportunity to lead and support on number of different projects that have helped to ensure that we are continually improving the services and educational opportunities afforded to Camden families. Our team has worked with local leadership, parents, community members, staff, and students directly to increase the number of students attending higher quality schools. We’ve worked to create budgeting and purchasing processes that preserve and maximize the resources that are directly benefitting students. We’ve created an enrollment system that addresses issues of equity and access within a city-wide system of school providers. Over time our efforts have led improvements in student achievement, decreases in the drop out rate and significant facilities investments.
What was the most important lesson you learned during the Residency?
One of my biggest takeaways from the Residency is that there is no right way to enact change for students. The strategies that a specific District, CMO, Government Agency, or even non-profit utilize in service of students are chosen and implemented based on the greater local context. Organizations that are able to find strong alignment between their strategy and the local, political, historical, and social context of their city are the organizations that will have the most significant and longstanding impact. Organizations that cannot or do not find this alignment can experience successes, but not at the same scale.
Briefly describe your capstone project: What were your goals, what did you achieve and how did that impact or will it impact the organization?
My capstone project explores the intersection of organizational culture within a change management context. In the three years since initiating the Gallup Q12 survey, Central Office staff engagement has shown steady and incremental improvement while our team has navigated, led, and adjusted to significant change in the way that our District supports schools, students, families, and the broader Camden community.
What was your vision for your career trajectory before you joined the Residency? How has it shifted?
I have always planned to work in public education, and my resolve to do so has been strengthened by my time in the Residency.
What will you miss most about being in the Residency?
Dedicated time to spend with my cohort as a large group. I’ll have relationships that last forever with many of them, but I’ll miss the opportunity to have all 50+ of us in the same room on a regular basis!
What advice do you have for someone contemplating applying for the Residency? For new Residents?
Do it. The Broad Residency has provided me with not only some of the best professional development and support I’ve received in my career, but I’ve also built lasting professional and personal relationships with a network of people from across the country that care about and are motivated by the same things that I care about and am motivated by.