Ed Eval Week: Susan Shebby and Sheila Arens on Using Evaluation to Support the Sustainability of District Grant Initiatives

Hello. We are Susan Shebby and Sheila Arens, evaluators from Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). In this post, we want to share our experience with a district working to implement a federal grant in two schools.

When the grant was awarded, it received a great deal of attention throughout the district and community. The funding was unprecedented, and the potential opportunities available to students and teachers were remarkable. However, initial excitement waned once the work began. Schools were slow to implement planned interventions and teachers were frustrated by grant goals. Moreover, no champions for the program emerged at the district level so the intervention was largely forgotten by the district—except during reporting and budget periods. Well before the end of the grant period, district- and school-level administrators lost sight of the grant goals and looked to the next grant or funding source for inspiration. Grant activities supported by teachers and community partners were terminated after the final grant performance period.

Lessons Learned:

The district requested a “case study” about development and implementation of large-scale grant initiatives that would yield recommendations for future initiatives in the district. Four themes repeatedly emerged as areas for improvement: communication and collaboration, leadership, consistency of policies and procedures, and sustainability. Evaluators help clients plan for implementation and sustainability by incorporating the following strategies into planning and delivery discussions.

  • Communication and collaboration. Create a systematic process for collaboration and communication with staff at all levels of the district, as well as with outside partners. This communication should occur regularly and frequently from the inception of the grant to build awareness of grant activities and successes.
  • Leadership. Create structures that support consistency in leadership for grant initiatives, provide clear reporting structures, and build the leadership capacity of existing personnel. Multiple changes in leadership—especially at the beginning of a grant award—were perceived as particularly harmful given the limited time available to demonstrate grant impact.
  • Consistency of policies and procedures. Raise awareness of existing policies and procedures, and create structures that support coherence between these policies and procedures and grant initiatives. This might include involving key implementers and policymakers early in the planning process (i.e., during the grant writing process) to ensure they perceive grant goals as important and attainable.
  • Sustainability. Create structures early in the grant cycle towards supporting programs after grant funding has concluded. In a five-year grant, meaningful discussions about sustainability should occur by Year 3 at the latest.

Rad Resources: These resources may be helpful as you work to support sustainability of initiatives.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PK12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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