William Eger is a member of The Broad Residency's 2017-2019 cohort and served as Senior Strategic Projects Manager at Boston Public Schools.
I wake up and groggily scan the emails that came in overnight. I try to get anything quick out of the way now. I also skim some national newsletters before putting on NPR and hopping into the shower.
It’s raining today, so I don’t bike in but instead take the bus down to our offices.
I grab a cup of coffee and a Kind bar and head up to my desk. I have about 30 minutes to organize myself for what looks like a meeting-heavy day.
The day starts with an hour-long meeting with a Northeastern computer science graduate student. A week before he graduates, he is presenting a new tool that combines several existing platforms into one, enabling us to better track school buses throughout the day. This new tool, we hope, will ultimately enable us to improve routing by creating routes that better account for traffic – think Waze for school buses. The platform looks pretty sleek, and I’m fairly excited about rolling it out.
I arrive a few minutes late to the Boston Compact Transportation Meeting. Boston Public Schools provides transportation to a variety of non-BPS schools and at this monthly meeting we collaborate with representatives from the Charter and Catholic sector to improve service for all schools. This week we’re talking about an initiative I worked on with several charter leaders to improve the enrollment file we get at the start of the year. Enrollment files with duplicate students or wrong addresses means a rough start to the school year.
The Compact meeting ends early, so I head downstairs to prep for a presentation at an Education Resource Strategies conference that is taking place at Boston Public Schools this year. They’ve brought together chief financial officers from across the country and I’m presenting some work we did to improve upon our weighted student funding formula. Using existing information about students such as information about their neighborhood or past academic performance, we created an index that identifies higher need students. We then direct more funding towards them; this year, we put around $9 million into this “Opportunity Index.”
I grab a quick late lunch and head back to my desk to work through some emails.
I head up to the Chief of Operations’s office for our weekly check-in on the long term transportation strategy. This week the Director of Transportation and I are presenting our proposed calendar for routing this summer. We’ve significantly revised the timeline, and think that it will lead to a calmer summer.
We all head down to the Chief Financial Officer’s office to check-in on the Transportation Budget. Our Assistant Director of Transportation Finance has been working on building out a more robust budget than we’ve had in the past. We hope that this will help hold our vendor more accountable by setting realistic targets.
I’m back upstairs to interview an Ed Pioneer for the summer – we review her work on an analytical exercise she completed earlier in the day. She does a great job, and we run fairly late.
Now that things have finally calmed down a bit, I spend some time looking at how full classrooms are across high schools. We’re in the early stages of a project to help principals do their staffing and budgeting more efficiently by bringing a bit more transparency to the process.
I swing by school committee on my way out to see what’s happening and to check in with the Chief of Operations about the interview.
My wife is working late as well, so I order Chinese food on the bus home instead of trying to cook anything.
After dinner, I scan my phone for work emails to see if anything came in that could benefit from a quick response. A lot of senior leadership is still at school committee, so there are a few emails to skim through.
I start getting ready for bed – and end up reading a big chunk of “Devil in the Grove” before falling asleep.
I wake up a little bit before the alarm – its crunch-time in BPS-school bus transportation land. We’re in the midst of renegotiating the bus driver’s contract while also trying to finalize our routes for the start of next year. This next few weeks will make or break the entire year for us.
It’s a nice day out so I take a Bluebikes – Boston’s bike share – in to work. This, and the iced coffee I grab after parking the bike, is a great way to start the day.
I head into an informal huddle with the Director of Transportation, the Routing Manager, our new Broad Resident who just joined transportation and is already doing amazing things. We check in about where we stand and what we need to accomplish over the course of the day. Last summer we hosted a Transportation Challenge that resulted in a first-in-the-nation routing algorithm that can route our entire system very quickly and more efficiently than our current approach. While we’ve been working on it for the last year, we’re still trying to resolve some issues and quirks with the solution. We split up with a clear direction on who is doing what internally, and how we can get clear directions and supports to the team that is working on developing and improving the algorithm.
Our new Broad Resident and I hop on the phone with the lead engineer of this algorithm and discuss the latest requested tweaks to the model. The meeting wraps early and I spend the remainder of the time checking in with our new Broad Resident before turning to emails for a bit.
I get to check in with our amazing summer intern. She’s been working on a variety of projects in transportation and she gives me a few updates on the most pressing issues.
We provide transportation to a variety of non-BPS schools – charter, private, and parochial schools. However, it isn’t always clear what we need to pay for as part of providing transportation for these schools – especially when it comes to additional adults on buses. For example, we cover the cost for special education monitors – individuals who, for example, provide support for students in wheelchairs. We don’t, however, pay for attendants who help address bad behavior. There is some gray area here, and we spent a few minutes chatting with the state regulator to get guidance on what costs we do and don’t have to pay.
BPS outsources transportation to a third-party contractor, who has a contract with a bus driver’s union. As much of the cost is passed along to BPS, BPS is involved as an adviser here. I’m on the negotiating team – meaning I get to join the bi-weekly meetings. We meet up to discuss our strategy for the upcoming week.
I grab a late going-away lunch with another one of our interns from the summer. She is heading back to MIT Sloan after doing some great work helping us identify ways the district can continue to improve our customer service.
As I get back to my desk for some work time, our CFO pulls me into her office to talk about a new project on how we can better understand centrally held ROI. That is, how can we know exactly where we’re spending centrally held resources (i.e. linking spending to specific students) – the investment piece. And how we can systematically measure what is, or isn’t, working (the return part).
Head back to my desk to work on emails.
Decide I’m leaving early!
Get a phone call from the COO to check-in on how routing is going, to check-in on negotiations, and a few other ongoing projects.
Head out to dinner and drinks with a good friend of mine from college!
Wake up, shower, bike to work. When I get to the office, I realize that my hair has frozen solid. Winter is here!
In addition to reporting to the CFO, I also report to an advisor to the Superintendent (although we don’t get to see each other nearly enough). We realized recently that we’re both doing some potentially overlapping strategic planning work. We currently have an interim Superintendent who appointed an interim Chief Academic Officer. I’m currently helping him develop a strategic plan and support his departments – Academics and Professional Learning, English Learners, Opportunity Gaps, Social Emotional Learning and Wellness, and Special Education – through this transitional period. The Superintendent’s advisor and I spend 30 minutes checking in to make sure that we’re not doing anything duplicative or anything that will cause unnecessary change.
After two years of working on projects in BPS Transportation I’ve transferred a lot of my responsibilities to an amazing new Broad resident (one of the perks of being a Broad Resident is you know who to call to get more Broad Residents!). Together, we spend some time updating our new Deputy COO on what we have been working on in Transportation over the last few months and years, as well as identifying specific areas where he can help right away.
We’re hiring! I have three phone screens today for a position that is similar to mine – but working directly for the COO instead of the CFO.
Quiet work time interrupted by a quick run over to Mario’s for Chicken Torta Thursdays for lunch.
Because BPS believes that districts are the unit of change, we don’t have a centralized curriculum that we mandate. Because of that, for example, not all 7th grade math teachers use the same materials. As part of my work for the Chief Academic Officer, we’ve been developing a survey to send out to all BPS teachers around what curriculum they’re using and how much they like it. From there, we’ll report that back to teachers and principals to help them make informed decisions. Over the last few days, people have been getting back to us with their feedback and I’m working on incorporating it.
Phone screen number two.
We’re always looking for ways to leverage Boston’s abundance of researchers. A professor who teaches a GIS class has two students (former teachers!) who reached out about potentially teaming up to make some maps based on our enrollment patterns. I spend thirty minutes talking through what a potential project might look like.
Final interview of the day!
More work on the survey – coding, tweaking, checking, repeat.
We’re finally back to playing BPS basketball – an informal weekly pickup game that is a great chance to both run around and get to know a wide variety of folks throughout the district. It’s a little stressful knowing that I’m not going to be able to walk pain-free tomorrow…
Grab some Chinese food on the way home for dinner with my wife. It’s a beautiful walk through the Boston common in the middle of our first snow (which, I suppose, some non-New Englanders might refer to as a blizzard).
Get to catch up with my Broad adviser for a bit – it’s really helpful to have someone so familiar with education but not in the district to bounce ideas off of.
Watch the end of Thursday Night Football (Aaron Jones really helped out my fantasy team), before falling asleep reading Nate Levenson’s book on school district spending.
Wake up, scan the news from bed, and then take the bus to work – it’s too cold to bike but instead of blaming it on the cold, I blame it on the light snow.
Spend some time catching up on emails that came in over the weekend.
We recently surveyed all of our teachers on what curriculum they use. We received feedback from over 1,000 teachers on over 100 curricular materials. The survey is still in the field, so at this point I’m just sketching out some of the data cuts that might be helpful to share with our academics team.
Bridgespan, a non-profit consultancy, recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about impact investing and we’ve set up a call with them. A group of us here are working on a project to try to better understand and improve the impact of our spending. In order to do that, we need to have a common metric of success, one that can link together diverse possible student outcomes. For example, which program is more effective – two programs with similar costs, but one improves student attendance by 4% and the other improves test outcomes by 2%? Bridgespan has done some work creating conversion rates between different outcomes – for example, converting attendance rates and test outcomes to “days of learning”, making it more of an apples to apples comparison. On the call, they helpfully walk us through their methodology.
We debrief the Bridgespan call and throw out a few other possible ways to link student outcomes.
I go out and grab a sandwich before coming back to the office.
I have my weekly one-on-one with the CFO where we review what I’m working on and how it’s going while we both have lunch.
Dig out of some emails.
We’ve hired a fantastic Kennedy School alum to help us with our budget transparency and impact analysis. She is working on a first-of-its-kind website that’ll explain where our spending goes in a user-friendly way for stakeholders. We have our weekly check-in to make sure the project is running smoothly and she is getting the supports she needs.
I’ve been working on an analysis with our budget director to try to figure out how much of their budget school leaders actually have discretion over – knowing that there are certain things they are required to purchase (teacher salaries, certain special education supports, etc.). Some schools are looking very wonky, but I make some slow and steady progress.
We’ve started a project to increase the number of research partnerships that the district has. I’ve been leading a project to have us publicly post some problems that we’re stuck on – with the accompanying data – to try to entice data wonks to help us with interesting and challenging data problems.
I’m presenting some analysis I did late last year on English Learners to our Assistant Superintendent for English Learners tomorrow – I polish that analysis up and make sure I remember what’s in the presentation for tomorrow.
I head home and then to the gym.
My wife meets me at the gym and we grab dinner at a fast casual place near our apartment.
After dinner we watch an episode of the new season of True Detective before heading to bed where I fall asleep reading the “The Evangelicals.”
Why did you join The Broad Residency?
Unlike some of my cohort-mates, when I joined the Residency, I wasn’t looking for a path into education – I already was working at BPS. But while working in a district, you don’t have structural opportunities to meet and learn from folks doing amazing work in education across the country. So I joined TBR as a way to keep learning and as a way to stay current with the field.
How is your work improving educational opportunities for the students in your system?
Working on Strategic Projects in the Office of Finance, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of interesting and far-ranging projects across the district. Ultimately, my department – and my role – improves educational opportunities for all students by monitoring the efficacy and equity of our current spending, and shifting resources to the places where they can most benefit our students.
What was the most important lesson you learned during the Residency?
There are so many positive things happening in education across the country! Too often we hear stories of ineffective bureaucracies failing students and families. While this certainly happens, one of the most inspiring lessons I’ve learned during the residency is how much amazing progress the organizations my cohort-mates work for have been able to make over the last few years.
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 was on our two-part effort to improve the efficiency of our transportation department and realign our school start and end times. Over the last few years, we made progress in reducing the number of buses in transportation and in developing innovative new tools to automate our bus routing. However, there is still room for improvement – which is why we were thrilled to bring in a new Broad Resident to transportation.
For the second part, on realigning start and end times, we made progress by developing a more mathematically rigorous approach to finding the “optimal” set of bell times given a set of community-driven priorities. However, this solution required a significant amount of change – 85% of schools would have seen their times change – and we didn’t get the community engagement piece right. Because of that we had to put the solution on hold in order to build community trust and investment in the idea.
What was your vision for your career trajectory before you joined the Residency? How has it shifted?
I’ve always wanted to help make the world a better place. My Residency experience has furthered my belief that if you want to make things better, education is the right place to be.
What will you miss most about being in the Residency?
The obvious answer here is not having structured time together with our cohort – but since we are committed to seeing each other past our final session, I’m hopeful that I won’t have to miss that part at all! Instead, what I will miss most is the wide range of supports and check-ins that the Broad Center provides while in the residency – ranging from formal and informal advisors to the executive coach.
What advice do you have for someone contemplating applying for the Residency? For new Residents?
If you’re considering applying, just do it. You may not think you’ll be a fit, but the cohort has an incredibly diverse range of experiences – so you never know! And if you know you’re a fit, what are you waiting for?