Ethos Classical is a kindergarten through fifth-grade tuition-free charter school in Atlanta, Georgia that delivers a liberal education deeply focused on literacy and the arts. Planning for the school began in 2015 and is now in its second year of operation. Ethos Classical appeals to parents and students who share its commitment to literacy as the lifeblood of all learning.
A GOAL OF SEAMLESS OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE
Everything Ethos does is intended to create operational excellence, with the ultimate desired outcome of providing an extraordinary education that inspires high student engagement. Parents who ‘get’ the mission of the school experience this excellence and become primary evangelists for driving enrollment. What Ethos needed was a technology partner who also ‘gets it’.
THE CRITICAL NEED FOR AN EDUCATION-CENTERED TECHNOLOGY PARTNER
After going through the local charter school system to receive authorization, which hadn’t been granted to a new school in ten years, Ethos Classical launched through the State Charter School Commission. But it faced a challenge—finding a technology partner with sufficient experience working with the particular needs of demanding schools. Instructional excellence requires operational excellence in that teachers must be able to focus on instruction, not operations. Technology, therefore, needs to be seamless and user-friendly.
The initial technology partner had immense technical background but insufficient experience with the unique needs of schools and was therefore unable to deliver the kind of operational excellence a school needs to reduce teacher burden and facilitate an excellent classroom experience. The school did not have internet for the first three weeks. Access to necessary platforms and portals was unavailable. Technology systems were incongruent and did not work as one seamless experience. Help requests were missed and not followed up. After some time, the community at Ethos Classical lost all trust in that vendor.
ENTER CTS—TECHNOLOGY FOR EDUCATION
Ethos Classical hired CTS in the spring of 2020. The challenge for CTS was steep. The disparate systems that couldn’t ‘talk to one another and that weren’t user-friendly had to be matched up and made coherent. Some systems had missing information, such as login info. Ethos had responded quickly to the pandemic by moving to a 100% virtual model, but that introduced an entirely new set of compound challenges. Single sign-on badges now had to work virtually. Temporary buildings that Ethos used while they finished construction and technical infrastructure on the main building had to be properly connected. The transition from the former technology partner to CTS needed to be non-disruptive or invisible to students and their families. CTS needed to solve the technology problems behind the scenes while ensuring Ethos Classical’s family experience remained consistent and robust.
SPRINGING INTO ACTION
Almost immediately after being hired, CTS solved Zoom and Lexia connectivity issues. Connectivity and compatibility are vital to remote learning for students and teachers. Since virtual learning launched right as CTS was onboarding, CTS staff became the front line of support for families, assisting and resolving remote learning challenges in students’ homes while simultaneously assisting teachers. The critical ingredient for success was CTS’s extensive experience with schools. Because of CTS’s understanding of the unique needs of schools, especially at such a critical juncture, the school staff spent less time communicating with CTS, more on instruction. Over time, CTS repaired the trust of teachers, students, and families with educational technology and became a partner-ambassador for the school’s vision.
Additionally, CTS staff became strategic partners for Ethos Classical to assist with prioritization of technology investments around cost, immediate and long-term impact, optimal workarounds, and overall school operations. As an example, Ethos required the ability to make announcements in its temporary buildings, once facilities reopened. Instead of investing in a $25,000 intercom system that wouldn’t be used again once the main building was complete, CTS brainstormed options for achieving communication throughout those facilities and implemented a solution that ultimately saved Ethos some crucial funds.
BOUNDLESS GROWTH IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES
In the past, Ethos Classical’s ability to optimally fulfill its mission was limited by the quality of service from its previous technology partner. With the right support systems in place, the school is now able to trust that its technology projects will succeed, be sustainable, and are deeply supported without significant operational disruption. Now that Ethos Classical can trust their technology partner, the school knows that, in technology, as with student potential, anything is possible.
Parents’ experience with Ethos Classical in their founding year was already exceptional. Since parents have been Ethos’ largest group of supporters, Ethos has had a formidable waiting list since its second year. And now, despite the pandemic, Ethos Classical has added an additional grade level, doubled its student body, doubled staff size, and seen measurable academic growth in number of students, student achievement, and student engagement, all the while implementing remote learning. With the remote learning program, the school recorded a 93% average daily attendance in live sessions and 94% logging on for at least one of those classes. As a point of comparison, some school districts report that 70% of their students haven’t logged on at all. The strong online attendance at Ethos would not be possible without the proper technology systems and support resources in place with the help of CTS.
AMPLIFYING THE ETHOS VISION
Ethos Classical started with 120 children in 2019, more than doubled (to 242) in 2020. and expect to be at 600 students in the next five years. This was possible through Ethos’ commitment to operational excellence. Teachers, students, and their families take advantage of a seamless technology experience that makes remote learning as efficient and effective as possible. Teachers enjoy having technology systems that are user-friendly—which allows them to focus on teaching instead of needing to focus on technical infrastructure. Parents share their positive experiences at Ethos Classical, spreading the word to attract other parents, which is vital to the school’s growth and expanding the reach of Ethos and its mission. Where vital technology is placed in the service of a specific educational vision, it amplies (not hampers) that vision.
Read an interview with Emily Castillo Leon, founder and head of Ethos Classical, here.
“I’ve got the best job in the entire world. The challenges are all worth it. I started my career in education as a high school English teacher and also coached teachers. Later, I was part of a founding team at KIPP High School in Nashville. Through all those experiences, we continued to develop a really clear vision of what a truly equitable education was for children, regardless of what their background is socioeconomically, making sure that they have a truly equitable experience.”