The stagnation stage is difficult to write about. Like a stagnant pond that might have been beautiful, but now is covered with muck, a stagnate charter school begins to show the signs of muck that hasn't been cleaned up. Quite often all of the processes and procedures that make a charter school stable are also those that lead to stagnation. School leaders work so hard to get past the growth stage and begin to hire professionals and to appropriately delegate. Often this goes against their deepest sense of who they are because they are entrepreneurs at heart. They allow others to have input. They delegate to subordinates. Many of the teachers are trained and operate without their day to day assistance.
This all seems so nice. Everything is operating smoothly. If someone asks about a rule or procedure, the answer is “we have a policy for that.” This is great. However, if that’s all it is, if there is no continuous improvement or re-infusion of ideas, the school will stagnate. In fact, stagnation is hard to detect for that very reason. The beginning of this stage is very comfortable. It feels as if all is OK. It’s not until things become stale that people begin to notice.
Following procedures and processes becomes rote. Board members and other leaders begin to answer questions with “that’s not our policy.” The problem is that no one really remembers why the policy was created and no one wants to think about changing policies. Many of the entrepreneurial types have left or are bored and thinking about leaving. Many of the people who have stayed are those who like routine.
As stagnation becomes worse, students often cease to be excited about their school because leadership is no longer excited about the school. Often the process becomes more important than the results, and even the definition of high quality results becomes defined by the process rather than the process by the goals. This is what I call the crisis of red tape. When the crisis of red tape hits, organizations need to take note and make corrections fast because this is the sign that the school has lost its heart. It may have its head, but as we all know, without passion, no one does anything.
A school that reaches stagnation has two options because staying in stagnation is not an option for a charter school. The school must either reinvent itself and restore its passion and reconsider policies and find ways to “restart” or it will enter decline. I’ve never seen anyone choose decline. It’s really a stage that arrives because no one recognizes or people deny that they are in stagnation.
To start at the beginning see: