Learning Focused Strategies in Managing Education Projects

June 30, 2017 4:36 pm

So, you and your Construction Management firm are fortunate enough to be invited to interview for a CM services contract for school construction in your area. It is an “early in” opportunity with desk work only at the very schematic stages. As the team prepares, hopefully questions come up from the project team around how to connect with this potential client (even if the firm has many school projects under the belt) and how to provide truly effective CM services without using buzz words that can feel shallow and meaningless.

While there may be an Owner’s Rep or facilities person to manage the process for the education agency, there are several considerations CM’s may want to think about when preparing or working directly with education leaders on school projects.

  1. School leaders do not typically think in a Project Management structure
  2. School leaders may not have a perspective on project success that may not align with common definitions
  3. School leaders often face demands that far outpace both the time and resources they have access to

What does this mean to a potential CM partner in an interview or the earliest stages of a project? Understanding variance in perspectives within the project team could be the difference between creating an authentic connection to a school-based client and coming in second at the interview.

In an education briefing publish in 2015 by Education Northwest, leadership qualities in truly effective school leaders are discussed along with the changing roles these leaders now play in the education arena. “They (school leaders) can no longer function simply as building managers, tasked with adhering to district rules, carrying out regulations and avoiding mistakes. Principals today must be instructional leaders capable of developing a team of teachers who deliver effective instruction to every student.”

Measured by student achievement success as well as student focus, leaders at all levels of education face increasing pressure to find ways to improve instruction, create and maintain vision for their school teams, engage students and their families, as well as create safe and nurturing environments that will support the learning process for all students. These are not “buzz” words or aspirational tasks. These are everyday responsibilities that support the commitment educational professionals make in changing the lives of children who attend their schools.

Why is it important to a CM partner? Being knowledgeable about what truly makes the school leadership community “tick” can yield results for a CM team working on planning, logistics, reporting and constructability for a school project. Exceptional school leaders are in touch with the changing landscape of instructional delivery and teaching methodology. They have the ability to gain buy-in from their schools teams and their school community. At some point ALL school construction projects need the support and patience of the teaching staff and parent community and that is difficult or impossible to cultivate in the head of a difficult moment.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016) Digest of Education Statistics, 2015 (NCES 2016-014), Chapter 1… “A pattern of annual enrollment increases is projected to continue at least through fall 2015 (the last year for which NCES has projected school enrollment), when enrollment is expected to reach 56.5 million. Coupled with a report on the condition of schools across the country (Condition of America’s Public School Facilities 2014) also from the NCES it is apparent that school construction and renovation will continue as a strong presence in the construction marketplace. Some of the highlights of that report include:

1. The overall condition of about three-quarters of permanent school buildings was described as excellent (20 percent) or good (56 percent); 21 percent were in fair condition, and 3 percent were in poor condition. Among schools with portable buildings, overall condition was excellent in 6 percent, good in 49 percent, fair in 36 percent, and poor in 9 percent.
2. Based on survey responses, 53 percent of public schools needed to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount for schools needing to spend money was about $4.5 million per school.


While building an authentic team culture geared toward supporting successful school projects, construction professionals can improve their results by keeping the following in mind:
• Engage the school leadership team by making a humble effort to understand today’s expectations for successful educators
• Know and respect the school leadership team’s responsibilities, top priorities (students), and time commitments
• Use planning and communication strategies that are holistic and direct. Un-learn the habit of using acronyms or construction lingo to describe tasks or goals
• Ask the school leadership team about how THEY define success for their projects and then…
• Listen Listen Listen
Educations strive to thrive in highly collaborative environments in today’s classrooms. Construction professionals can sometimes give the impression that the design and construction process must be linear and often run an autocratic delivery that can intimidate or worse, alienate the content experts who could be the most helpful in achieving a successful project result. With growing school age populations and significant need in existing infrastructure, construction projections remain strong in the education market. As today’s educational leaders bring new methods for teaching into new and updated school facilities, challenge your team to learn how to “walk the walk” with their education clients and become true partners in creating effective learning environments.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Condition of America’s Public School Facilities (NCES 2014-022).

An architect by profession, Kelli Racca is a former Sr. Administrator in Delaware’s public schools and now is a practicing Construction Professional. Kelli has 14 years of private practice as an architect and 13 years in planning and facilities for a Delaware school district. She finds her greatest inspiration from projects where educational spaces are created for children and adults alike!