Needs Based Authorizing: Designing a Process to Fill the Gaps (Part 1 of 2)

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Needs Based Authorizing: Designing a Process to Fill the Gaps (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Margo Roen, Chief of New Schools & Accountability, Achievement School District

From Nevada to Georgia, and everywhere in between, you have probably noticed an increasing interest in, and commitment to, statewide school districts with the unique charge of providing great school options for all students. In most scenarios, this work is conducted in the form of school restarts—a process for turning around chronically low-performing schools by changing management structures and/or autonomies—and often includes high-quality charter schools as a part of the turnaround strategy.

But policy alone will not deliver on the promise of creating high-quality public schools for every student. Fulfilling it means a merging of two conditions: 1) high-quality charter partners ready to take on the challenges of turnaround work; and 2) authorizers with an intentional strategy for recruiting and selecting operators that meet their unique needs and locales.

Often this turnaround work is the responsibility of state authorizers, where context is everything: local policies, laws, pipelines, and the intended local impact each play a huge role in the school-restart process.

At the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), we have learned a lot about what it takes to create these two conditions, all in support of building a new district focused on moving schools from the bottom five percent in the state to be on track to the top 25 percent. While we are still learning and growing, we do believe that the levers to creating a high-quality restart strategy include:

  1. The right context and conditions on the ground;
  2. Talented and motivated individuals working on a lean support team, as opposed to a big central office, that push autonomy and resources down to schools; and
  3. Needs based authorizing that takes into account the unique conditions, challenges, and charge of our work.

Needs based authorization—authorizing to “fill the gaps” in your district or school portfolio—is where operator capacity and authorization strategy ultimately meet, driving an authorizer’s mission and work forward. Needs based authorizing includes thinking through the following potential gaps in your district, city or state:

  • Types of schools lacking in the market (e.g., alternative education programs, STEAM programs);
  • New geographic needs (e.g., new school options where there is a population boom or);
  • Targeted areas with a lack of quality seats for kids (e.g., specific cities with a concentration of low-performing schools, a feeder pattern of schools in your city where there is a concentration of underperforming schools); and
  • Authorizing processes that are not aligned or misaligned to your specific mission and strategy.

Effective needs based authorizing touches everything about your authorization process, including how you recruit and select evaluators, the application materials, and resources for applicants. In Part 2 of this blog post series, I will outline the ways that you can express the needs of your district, city, and state, as well as the students and families being served.


Margo Roen serves as the Chief of New Schools and Accountability at Tennessee’s Achievement School District, where she oversees the charter authorizing, portfolio growth, and district and school accountability work. She originally joined the district as the Director of New Schools in August 2011, leading the recruitment, authorization, school start-up, and matching of high quality operators with Tennessee’s lowest performing schools for transformation and later served as the Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer of the district. Prior to this role, Margo taught high school math and Physics and served as an administrator in pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in both a traditional school and charter school setting. She was also deeply involved in the large-scale education reform in New Orleans, working with multiple nonprofits to restart their region after the hurricane (TFA, TNTP). Margo holds a degree in Arts Administration from Tulane University and a Masters in Educational Policy (M.P.P.) from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.

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