How to protect your stakeholders

Located in Denton, Texas, strategically nestled within the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, the North Texas Collegiate Academy (NTxCA) is a public charter school district with just over 900 students. In partnership with its parents and stakeholders, NTxCA is a model of educational pursuit where students are empowered through culture of character, community and confidence. Designed around Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and College and Career Readiness Standards, the school’s curriculum features a blended approach in which project-based learning is partnered with technology and small-group instruction.

NTxCA’s unique attributes are carefully guided by a staff of dedicated educators, led by district Superintendent Dr. Lisa Stanley. In a time when schools across the country stand on the highest guard in regards to areas like cybersecurity, physical safety and mental wellbeing, Dr. Stanley says that keeping stakeholders informed and engaged in those areas is as important as educational proficiencies. For example, the district features a School Safety and Security Committee composed of staff and administrators, first responders and emergency personnel, and parents. The group holds regular meetings that are open to the public and posts the minutes of the agendas on its website. 

In addition, NTxCA hosts Facebook Live events in which Dr. Stanley discusses issues on safety and wellbeing—conversations where parents and stakeholders are invited to participate or watch the replays. The school also makes the events available on the school app, ensuring that translation is provided for all stakeholders in their native languages. The outreach is critically important to such a diverse demographic that includes 98% at-risk students; 97% economically-disadvantaged; 27% who are experiencing homelessness; and 56% emergent bilingual.

“I’ve learned that you’ll never be accused of communicating ‘too much’ about areas like school safety, but you can be accused of not communicating enough,” Dr. Stanley says. “And if you don’t, rebuilding credibility is tough. I had a mentor share with me some incredible advice that I’ll always remember: ‘Have lots of fingerprints on the big decisions.’ That means the voices of all stakeholders must be included when deciding what types of resources and initiatives are implemented for safety and wellbeing.”

I’ve learned that you’ll never be accused of communicating ‘too much’ about areas like school safety, but you can be accused of not communicating enough.”

— Dr. Lisa Stanley, Superintendent of North Texas Collegiate Academy

To help facilitate that protocol, NTxCA utilizes surveys with open-ended responses, town-hall meetings with stakeholders, small group discussions and informal conversations to gather feedback. After poring through the data, administrators can make the final decisions on what supports are provided. One example that came from this feedback involved the texting feature for crisis support. Students told the school they often are more comfortable texting than visiting with someone in person, so they made sure their programs offered texting as an option for services.

“Planning and training are the best practices for handling incidents or emergencies,” Dr. Stanley says. “We cannot wait until we are in the crisis to realize we did not have appropriate emergency operations plans or that we had not established proper procedures. Internal preplanning, tabletop workshops where staff walk through various scenarios and ongoing training are critical. This cannot just occur in August prior to the start of the school year; it must be a routine and ongoing part of every faculty meeting.”

At the crux of NTxCA’s efforts is its crisis communications plan. On her watch, Dr. Stanley says that in a crisis, the school will not have to wait until an emergency to decide who can talk to the media, how to communicate reunification plans to parents and how to provide extra support and counseling to those impacted. “And we don’t just have those plans printed in a binder on a shelf somewhere; we have a secured digital file where the plans can be accessed readily if you have to evacuate a building.”

It takes a community

To say that today’s K-12 school systems are at a crisis level is a bit of an understatement. But if you ask Raymond “Raki” and Kimberly McGregor, the solutions are right in front us. The husband and wife team have been a constant presence in the wellbeing and direction of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools district.

Raki, Senior VP, New Business, Digital Equity & Community Growth at Novant Health, recently was invited to assist the school district on the cybersecurity front. He spends his days exploring and delivering new business opportunities enabled through the transformation and digital officer channel, such as Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

On the other side, Kimberly, who worked as a counselor within the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, serves in a consultative capacity through SYDKIMYL Educational Consulting, an educational consulting company she founded in 2019. For nearly 20 years, she has worked with school-aged children in a variety of capacities, including assisting with transitions between grade levels, running individual, small- and large-group sessions, conducting staff training, and serving as the liaison between several school and community outreach programs.

Together, they bring a unified approach to help guide the best practices that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools can use on several key fronts. “I would say that what we have today is a lot of people admiring the problem,” Raki says. “But that time is through; it is time for us to collaborate—to not just say we are putting our children first and protecting their future, but to do it. Each person can have a role in this. I don’t mean play a role; I mean have a role. The issues we have with cybersecurity, safety and wellbeing are all of our problems. It is time.”

For his part, Raki is working in several different areas, including security. The strategy involves putting a stronger emphasis on both external and internal vulnerabilities. This includes everything from creating stronger guidelines for cybersecurity threats, increasing educational competencies, etc. “There’s an education process that needs to take place on all levels.”

At the core of programs like this are the teachers and administrators tasked with pushing the process forward. Kimberly says that means that professional development is paramount, including giving these professionals the tools they need to handle the spate of situations today’s educational landscape is facing. “It is important that teachers stay ahead of the curve. It means truly understanding the culture of your school and what is needed to cope. Everyone needs to be on the same page. What you have now is some teachers having to be counselors, but they are not.” With the rash of incidents that continue to take place around the country, properly preparing students, teachers, parents and stakeholders for not only what may come, but how to deal with it when it does, will be at the top of every school district’s to-do list in their attempt to safeguard the system.

It is important that teachers stay ahead of the curve. It means truly understanding the culture of your school and what is needed to cope.”

— Kimberly McGregor, M.S, Founder/CEO, SYDKIMYL Educational Consulting