Flex Academies: Talk to me about, from your standpoint, why is it important for a school to have an afterschool program to extend the day?
Danny Vogelman: Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One is you are supplementing the education and you are doing that through offering activities that are interesting to the students and of interest to the families. It allows you, as a school, to kind of develop children’s skills, develop their interest levels in things that you either don’t have time to do or you don’t have the resources to do during the school day. So to me, it helps develop the whole child. I think most schools will say it is a priority of theirs is to develop the whole child but often times between that 8-3 timeslot when you look at priorities, those kind of interest-laden things might get pushed to the bottom. So I think a very healthy afterschool activities program can help schools with their philosophy or vision or mission to develop the whole child.
FA: You and I have a unique history because you helped start Flex Academies back in the day, because you gave us the opportunity to manage the afterschool program at Westland Middle School so I know you practice what you preach. Now you are at Washington Episcopal, which is a private school. Can you talk about the differences between a public school in Montgomery County versus a private school in Montgomery County and the expectations and what you need to deliver through an afterschool program?
DV: Obviously, the biggest difference is that our families are choosing us, so we need to develop a total program for them and their children. So when we look at our program, we are not just looking at our school day, but we are looking at how can we take care of the kids whether it be until 4:30 or until 6 o’clock, and we can do so in a way that is engaging, that is productive, that is of interest to the kids and to the families and again, is aligned with our mission. If you were to read our mission and read or philosophy, it is about educating the whole child. I was a public school principal and I’m the head now at a private school; there’s not a whole lot of difference in the fact that everyone wants to do what’s best for kids. I think coming into the private sector there is a little bit of a higher expectation to provide a very healthy and robust afterschool activities program because that’s what families are partially paying for. That is what they expect. We are not cheap and families are making sacrifices to send their children here. The other difference is there’s competition for us and a family who may not be totally satisfied with our afterschool activities or our total program, they have choices. They can go to another school that may be of more interest to them and their children. So we are constantly looking at that. It pushes you to be innovative and it really pushes you to ensure that you have the most robust and effective program around.
FA: So then let’s talk about the program that you have. Can you tell us what you see from a bird’s-eye view, from a principal’s view, walking around at your private school every day?
DV: So we have programs that range from athletic programs, we have entrepreneurship programs. The other difference for me is that I’m now catering for children who are three years old to children who are 14. Where when I was a middle school principal, I didn’t have that age range. So we are needing to provide programs that fit a wide range of interest or are age-appropriate, obviously. I think we do that well. However, obviously like anything you look for continuous improvement and we would look to improve some of those areas that we have. As I walk around, I would say probably 50-70 percent of our children are involved in an afterschool program of some sort here. What I like to do is gauge how satisfied our customers are. So as I walk around and I stop in at the afterschool activities, I ask the kids how they are doing. When I get a chance to talk to parents or whether it’s through surveys, we are always looking at ways we can improve that afterschool program. We have one that, as I said, kids are highly involved in and parents are trusting to send their kids to our afterschool activities. We are just always looking for new ways to interest kids and interest parents.
FA: So my last question, is, if we go back to when we started working together, Flex Academies at Westland, what made you believe that the afterschool program management model would work at Westland? Now we are in 23 schools and we manage the afterschool programs at four foundations. So where is that need for afterschool program management that you saw?
DV: Schools have limited resources. When you look at your pot of resources, especially human resources, we are hiring folks who mostly are teachers and they’ve been trained and they’ve been educated and trained in education, whether it be math, science, or English. When it comes to time for afterschool activities, first of all, your teachers have worked exceptionally hard all day. To be honest, they may not have more to give in the afternoon because we work them very hard and their day doesn’t stop. They have papers to grade, they have planning that they have to do, they have their own families that they have to get home to. So by looking outward to bring services like yours into our school, I think what that provides is a greater opportunity to bring people in with various skills, possibly skills and backgrounds that our teachers don’t have. So I think it allows you to offer a wider range of activities for the kids and you are not relying on your own teachers and staff who have already worked eight hours that day and probably have another three or four that they have to work that night. We have teachers that have the skills and interest level and energy that want to go ahead and want to participate in those afterschool activities. I think that’s fantastic and I want to keep that going. But I think bringing that management program would bring a wide range of skill sets and a wide range of variety into the school and a fresh set of eyes. I think blending the two together could make for an optimal program. That’s what I felt when I started with our program at Westland. I think as you have grown your business, I think that probably what principals are seeing now, is when you can blend the two using a school’s own human resources and then using a program like yours to come in and take the management of it off of our hands but also you have enough connections that you can bring those people with those special expertise whether it be in robotics or debate clubs or things like that, that perhaps I don’t have teachers that have that interest or those expertise. But you can go out and get those. So I think blending those two things together can really create an optimal afterschool experience.
FA: Well, I appreciate the opportunity that you gave me back then and I appreciate your time today and I hope that we get to work together soon.
DV: Thank you, Josh.
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