Tips from Earl Martin Phalen, Co-Founder BELL
Posted by AdminLinkEd
January 27, 2009, 4:17 pm
Earlier this month, the LinkEducation team went to an event where we had the pleasure of hearing Earl Martin Phalen, the CEO and Co-Founder of BELL, speak about BELL's summer program. BELL, founded in 1992 as a tutoring and mentoring program at one school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is now serving over 12,600 students in their after school and summer programs and has received many awards for exemplary service. LinkEducation was curious as to how BELL grew so successfully in such a short time, and thought that "Tips from Earl" could be really helpful to organizations that need guidance or are looking to expand.
1) How do you approach your partnerships with schools? What has worked and what hasn't worked in making an entree into these partnerships?
The first way we think about partnerships is what the need of each school is and how we can provide it. Each partnership starts with the principal. They want a program to be hassle free, but they want to make sure that the program is providing measurable results.
They want to know what outcomes you produce and how you produce them. Are the children making significant improvements from your program? And are those improvements transferring into their performance in school?
BELL has a full time site manager to measure these successes and give support to teachers to integrate the program into the culture of the school. Since these site managers are full time they can get involved in the school during the day and then also run the BELL program after school. These site managers go to principal meetings, have meetings with teachers, are school lunch monitors and get a sense of the school culture. This provides continuity to the kids so they see the program as more than just an after school program, but as a part of their school. They get to know the site managers and feel that they are a constant in their life.
2) How did you expand your funding? What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them in the expansion process?
Getting growth capital to invest in back office staff is key to expanding. We try to get money that does not just go directly into the day-to-day operations, but also will pay for quality site managers and training.
With the first round of growth capital we revamped the board and improved our upper management. This improved staff and board allowed us to researched funding streams that would come year after year instead of just finding one time immediate funding. It took 3 years to do this well. But when we built a good in frastructure we were ready to tap into larger funding sources like NCLB.
For the first 10 years the program received mostly foundation funding. The program started with $12,000 went to $3.6 million by year 10. This growth was mostly through 25k-50k grants.
After year 10 when we had the infrastructure to handle larger funding options, we got a grant to hire a lobbyist to get us into NCLB. The lobbyist got us $100,000 in NCLB the first year, and this year we are trying to secure $2 million. In the past we received AmeriCorps funding, but since we did not have the infrastructure in place to grow the program we did not receive multiple year funding from them. This time since we have prepared our program for this expansion we proved that our program was ready to increase from $100,000 to $2 million.
3) How did you maintain the quality of your programs while expanding?
It is important to have a clear understanding of data and metrics – attendance of your teachers, tutors and scholars, quiz results, customer service feedback on surveys, and number of complaints. There are 25 metrics that we look at.
It took a while to establish these metrics and at first we weren’t sure what we should be measuring. But over the growth period we figured it out and can look at the key metrics for the entire organization, city, school, and then can look at it by cluster. We now know what to look for and have timely data so we can respond properly.
A universal program curriculum is also imperative to ensure the quality of the program. For the first ten years we created our own curriculum, but then realized that we should be outsourcing our curriculum development to an outside company, since they have put millions of dollars and years of research into developing the best curriculum. Our new curriculum, developed by Houghton Mifflin, has a great multicultural library and has a component of e-learning. We found our curriculum provider through a board member and got it at a discount. This is just one way that our improved board and infrastructure helped improve our program.
And of course a quality staff is essential to a good program. We have an intensive screening process that makes it very clear that we only want employees who believe that all children can excel. This helps us attract certain people. We then do a phone screening, face to face, then in person training to determine if they are the right fit. We then get the principals’ and parents’ feedback on our employees so that if someone isn’t working out, you can move on to someone else.
4) In what ways do you collaborate with other education organizations?
We partner with organizations that help develop an education pipeline. We partner with Jump Start, I Have a Dream, Prep for Prep, and Citizen Schools to make sure that each of their scholars are getting a quality education from the beginning of their education all the way through graduation.
We also partner on training. We share trainers, content, share modules, e-learning. We want to help make a difference in the education of all students and want to see our program succeed along with other programs. We have developed some great systems and we hope that we can make them more generic and universal so more programs can benefit from them.
We also partner with the Boys and Girls club for event partnerships. Recently Randy Moss held an event and wanted to make a big impact in the community. By partnering with the Boys and Girls club they were able to make a greater impact with one event.
We license our program to others for a fee. We want other programs to benefit from all of the work that we put into our program. We license it so others can get the content, training, and technical assistance from BELL.
We partner with school districts. Baltimore outsourced summer school program to us – BELL is fun but rigorous, so we ran the summer learning program and now Springfield and Detroit picked it up too. It’s huge that Springfield came to us and said: some of our children are going to be held back – this is a mandatory program for those children so if they pass at the end of the year they go on to the next grade. These time of partnerships position us to be a model for all programs and provides great expansion opportunities.
How can LinkEders get involved?
Go to the website: apply to be a teacher/tutor; if you’re a parent – sign a child up; make a donation if you’re an educator and not in a region, reach out to us and say gosh we’d like to have BELL in our school and BELL in our district; how can that be done? Shouldn’t we be trying something like this? Bring it to your school district.
BELL is part of a movement – our focus is the 50 million children who live in poverty, so doing something for any organization, such as getting on a board or making a donation, helps the greater movement to help all children receive an excellent education.