Mahati Tonk served as Executive Director, School Operations for Miami-Dade County Public Schools during The Broad Residency.
I wake up to the sound of my daughter cooing in her crib 15 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. While I wish I had a few more minutes to snooze, seeing her big smile is a pretty incredible start to my day! I feed her and hand her off to my mom, who is staying with us to help with the baby. I shower and get ready for work
I drive to work and take in the view crossing the bridge from the beach to downtown while listening to the radio.
I check emails and get ready for my meetings today. One of my co-workers comes with Cuban coffee as she does every morning — a major perk of living in Miami.
I oversee the creation of a differentiated accountability framework for Miami-Dade County Public Schools charter schools. I meet with our National Association of Charter School Authorizers liaison to align with national best practices in charter school authorizing by creating mechanisms to focus greater resources on struggling schools while providing autonomy to high performers. One component of the project is an annual report for every school to provide greater transparency to families looking to enroll their child in a charter school. NACSA is partnering with our office to get this project off the ground. We review our work to date and strategize about next steps.
I have a discussion with our district’s head of research and data analysis to determine our current capabilities for creating the report we have in mind. I’m a bit discouraged at first. It sounds like compiling the data we need from multiple sources will be challenging. But we agree on some ideas for pressing forward.
I run to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich. It’s pecan pie day, so I treat myself with some dessert, too. I quickly eat at my desk while responding to emails.
We invited a focus group of six principals to gather input on the concept of the annual report. This group is proactive. They seem on board with the idea and have many useful suggestions.
I was originally scheduled to attend a compliance visit at one of our struggling schools, but the visit is rescheduled for next week. I am relieved. Now, I can use the rest of the afternoon to work on my analysis of several charter schools that applied for renewal. I watch the live webcast of the district’s school board meeting on my second screen as I work.
I pack up for the day and continue listening to the school board meeting on the radio during my drive home.
I am so excited to see my baby girl! I take her for a quick walk along the beach to get some time outside before the sun sets. My husband gets home in time for our baby’s bedtime routine.
My mom made dinner. The three of us eat and catch up on our day.
I finish prepping for my meetings tomorrow and respond to a few emails. The baby wakes up, so I feed her and get her back to sleep.
I head to bed hoping the baby gives me at least a few hours of sleep before she wakes up again!
I look over to see my daughter just starting to stir awake in her crib. I put her into her baby swing and set her up in the living room while my husband and I do a quick workout. She always giggles when we do burpees, which makes them less painful. I shower, feed the baby and get dressed for work.
My mother-in-law has been staying with us to help with the baby. I hand my daughter to her and drive to a curriculum and compliance review at one of our charter schools. This is one of 17 schools I will visit over the next two months to ensure that the educational program being implemented is effective and in line with the charter and meets all legal requirements. I’ve done a few so far with other team members, but this is the first one I conduct on my own. I am excited because this school is located within a children’s museum and right on my way to work.
The school’s lead teacher points out exhibits we pass on our way to the school. There is a pretend grocery store and emergency room for kids to play in, a music studio and more. I wish I could explore all the exhibits but, alas, I have a compliance review to conduct.
I meet with the principal to discuss the school’s strengths and challenges and review several binders of paperwork. We then tour the school and observe classrooms. We spend the remainder of the visit debriefing and reviewing my findings.
I make a mental note that there is an early childhood program in the building that starts taking kids at 12 months old! It’s something to keep in mind since my mother-in-law won’t stay with us for much longer.
I grab a sandwich on my way out of the museum and drive to the office. I catch up on e-mails and enter my observations from the visit into our online system while eating at my desk.
The superintendent’s chief of staff invited a fellow Broad Resident working in the district and me to discuss our experiences so far. We meet with him, and he shares some great advice.
It’s our deputy superintendent’s birthday, and there is a surprise birthday party for her in the conference room next to my desk. I missed the surprise, but I grab a cupcake and wish her a happy birthday.
I meet with my supervisor to discuss revisions to the district’s charter schools policy that we plan to present at the next school board meeting. We have been trying to move this forward for some time but certain components have faced some pushback. Through stakeholder input and discussions across district departments, I revised the components. I confer with our attorney to ensure that all changes meet legal sufficiency.
I incorporate the agreed-upon changes and spend the rest of the afternoon researching the school I will visit tomorrow morning to identify any red flags or questions to raise with the principal.
I drive home, listening to a podcast.
I get home in time to strap my baby into her carrier and race over to the library down the street to catch the last 15 minutes of “Baby Bedtime Storytime.” We head back home and, after feeding her and reading her a few books, she falls asleep.
My husband comes home, and we have dinner and chat about our day. My supervisor asked me to review and provide recommendations on some proposed state legislation on charter schools. I read it with the television on in the background as my husband works on a presentation he will deliver tomorrow.
I get everything ready for tomorrow and head to bed.
I arrive at the office and make final edits to a presentation for next week’s retreat for the school board and superintendent’s cabinet. The presentation reviews the district’s charter school portfolio, which will lead into a discussion of proposed revisions district charter-school policy to better align the district with national best practices in charter school authorization and better meet the needs of the families we serve. The board requested a deeper dive on these revisions before they vote on them. We also hope to discuss several components of proposed legislation that could greatly impact charter schools in the state.
I attend a run-through of our presentation with the superintendent and cabinet members. My supervisor and I provide an overview of our content, and I jot down notes for changes based on the superintendent’s feedback. Our head of government relations provides an update on pending legislation, and our chief budget officer reviews our budget.
I head back to my desk and eat my lunch while I update our deck.
I lead a meeting to review our team’s processes for collecting, updating and utilizing data. We have a database with tremendous potential that was developed a while ago by one of my colleagues. However, most of the team is not aware it exists, and the data is not regularly updated. We review the current capabilities, and I gather input from my team. I use this information to develop standardized processes for regularly updating and reviewing the database. My goal is for the team to move from storing information in several disconnected documents to centralizing all data in one database.
Our school district’s attorney, two other team members and I meet with lawyers for the management company that works with many of the charter schools in the district. They are requesting several changes to our standard charter contract. We review them and provide our feedback in advance of next week’s contract review committee meeting, when any changes to their contracts will have a formal vote.
I spend a few minutes catching up on e-mails and reviewing my calendar for tomorrow. I then grab my things and head out for the day.
I arrive home and wrap my daughter in a big hug. I take her with me to a free weekly yoga class held in a park outside my apartment. She lasts about 15 minutes doing her own stretches in her stroller next to my mat before she starts fussing and I take her on a walk.
My husband arrives home, and we put the baby to bed. We have dinner and share stories from our day.
I drop my daughter off at her pre-K program for the day. It’s her second week, and I’m still getting used to the new routine.
I arrive at the office and respond to emails before attending a workshop for our district’s school board to highlight new programs rolling out for the 2017-18 school year such as additional magnet programs and initiatives aimed at providing more mobile devices to students.
I have a meeting to discuss the terms of a collaborative partnership agreement between the district and a national charter school network. I have been leading the initiative to finalize this agreement for the past several months, and I am excited about its potential to diversify the charter landscape in Miami-Dade and create exciting educational opportunities for students in our highest-needs areas. This is a high-stakes meeting that includes our superintendent and the charter network’s founder, and I am very pleased (and relieved!) that it goes well.
I eat a quick lunch at my desk while I prep for my next meeting.
I meet with the head of our Parent Academy about organizing a parent summit in the fall. We are in the early stages of the project and discuss goals, audience and logistics. We reach out to the organizer of a similar event in New Jersey and get some useful best practices.
Florida’s legislature recently passed a sweeping education law with many implications for my team’s work. I lead a meeting with my team to review the legislation and discuss changes we will need to make and questions we have for the state education agency.
I leave to pick up my daughter. I’m happy to hear that she had a good day!
I throw some ingredients into my Instant Pot and take my daughter for a quick swim in our building’s pool. My husband comes home from work, and we all have dinner together.
We put the baby to sleep and do some reading with television playing in the background until bedtime.
I drop my daughter off at her pre-K program. She happily jumps into her teacher’s arms. No tears at drop off is always a good sign for the rest of the day!
I arrive at the office and scan my emails. Last night was a major milestone as our School Board approved a collaborative partnership between the district and KIPP, a national nonprofit network of charter schools. This is the first district-charter collaboration of its kind in Florida and we hope to share findings from the partnership state- and nation-wide. I lead the initiative to finalize the terms of the partnership and am thrilled we finally have the approvals we need to move forward. The partnership aims to provide more high-quality educational options to students in one of the district’s most high-need areas while sharing best practices and professional development resources. I draft responses to press inquiries to share with my supervisor and our communications team.
I present my findings on three charter schools that are up for renewal at an Application Review Committee meeting. The Committee discusses my analysis, each school’s data, and the overview of the school’s progress from the principal of each school. The Committee then provides its recommendations for the School Board. There is some tense discussion about the enrollment procedures of one school with much lower percentages of students with disabilities and English language learners than neighboring schools.
The weather is finally cooling down so I take a quick walk around the block to grab a sandwich and get some fresh air after the long Application Review Committee meeting.
I go to a meeting to discuss how to bring KIPP’s programming for supporting students as they prepare for and select the right college and career to our district. I am working with our district staff who oversee college counselors and KIPP staff who oversee professional development in this area to create a pilot program for a small group of high schools. We are all excited about introducing KIPP’s college match strategies to our district practices.
I spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing charter school annual reports to ensure all data displayed is accurately. After months of tweaking the design, compiling data, and gathering feedback, the reports displaying key data on every charter school in our district are almost ready for their debut on our website. I am excited about what a useful resource these will be for families trying to find the right school for their child.
I leave to pick up my daughter. She is busy dancing with her friends to holiday music but runs over when she spots me.
My daughter and I meet my husband for a quick dinner near our apartment. We do our best to keep her entertained while we eat and catch up on our days. A question from a reporter comes in regarding the collaborative partnership and I send a draft response to my supervisor for her review.
After a few bedtime stories and songs we put our daughter to sleep and spend the rest of the evening reading, running a couple loads of laundry and listening to music.
I drop my daughter off at her pre-K program for the day. She doesn’t want to let go at first, but then spots her friend going down the slide and runs over to join her. I quickly slip out and drive to our quarterly Charter Schools Principals Meeting, held at a local college.
I arrive at the meeting and help with last minute set-up. Most of the principals of the district’s 130 charter schools are in attendance. Sessions range from gun violence prevention to sharing of best practices and technical support in areas such as monitoring school attendance. I present on how our office is working to help parents make informed school choices by providing greater transparency and ease of access to charter schools data. I also gather their feedback on the annual reports I developed for each of their schools. I am thrilled to hear that principals are finding the reports useful and sharing them broadly with their school communities.
I leave after my presentation to attend a facilities walk-through of the building at which KIPP will co-locate with an existing district elementary school. KIPP is opening its first school in Miami-Dade through a District-Charter Collaborative Partnership I am overseeing. Representatives from KIPP, the region, the district school, and the district’s facilities team are in attendance. Ensuring all students in the building benefit from the co-location is my priority. We therefore are adamant that any facilities improvements identified for the KIPP side of the building will also be made throughout the building.
After the walk-through, I meet with the principal of the district school and the region to discuss programs we are developing using grant funding to provide the district school with extra support. One program is KIPP’s best practice of inviting students to school a week early during the summer to establish school culture and routines for the upcoming year so they can hit the ground running academically on day one. We are all very excited about the projects in the pipeline and I make a list of next steps to keep us on track.
I was planning to head back to the principals meeting but get a text from my supervisor that we will be presenting at a senior staff meeting tomorrow on District-Charter Collaboration. I drive to the office to pull together a presentation and talking points.
I do final formatting on the presentation, send a copy to my supervisor and head out to pick up my daughter who greets me with a huge smile that makes my day.
We arrive home and I take her to the park. Even though she just had a full day at school, she has boundless energy and I chase after her to keep up!
My husband comes home with take-out and we have dinner and put the baby to sleep.
We spend the rest of the evening reading and prepping for tomorrow’s meetings.