About two years ago, my ESE Department implemented an after school tutoring program specifically aimed at students with disabilities. The goal was to improve the students’ phonics and reading comprehension skills. To ensure intense instruction and maximum support for our students, we decided that the class size for each teacher should be no more than ten students. This way we could also rotate among small groups of five or pair in twos. Funding for the program was obtained through an educational grant of $20,000. We had just enough money to buy a complete reading curriculum, priced at $7, 795 and to pay our small staff of ESE teachers, which totaled $7, 200. The rest of the money was to be used for supplies and supplemental materials. The program was to last for a duration of 6 six weeks, but we only had three weeks to plan and get the program started.
By the end of week 2, the students had been identified and selected for the invitations to be sent home and that’s when our Principal threw in a curve ball. After careful consideration and an examination of past FCAT scores, she thought it would be best for us to also add in a math component along with additional “at risk” students who have been identified during the RTI process as needing additional remediation in math and reading. This addition would certainly increase our expenditures for resources, especially since we were not planning for a math component, along with an increase in students per class. The increase in class size left us all feeling a little disappointed, because the larger number would mean less individual time with students, which was one of our primary purposes. The initial number of students given to us included about 40 other students, which would have put each class at about 20 students. So we needed go come up with a contingency plan and had one week left before launch date.
So feeling the pressure of the short notice, we presented a list of concerns to our Principal along with a list of compromises that would allow the ESE team to meet the goals of small group instruction, with an additional math component. We were able to get the number of additional students reduced to 20, thereby limiting the class size to no more than 15 students per class. Although the class size was still larger than we originally planned, the number was still small enough for us to effectively manage small group instruction. For the addition of the math component, we decided to focus on mathematical word problems and critical thinking skills. This approach still gave us the opportunity to focus on reading comprehension skills. We used some of the money we had set aside for supplies, to purchase inexpensive classroom sets of problem solving workbooks. We were able to use our previously purchased sets of math manipulative to supplement our hands on activities for the small groups. With three days left before the start date, we each divided up the list of students to make personal phone calls to parents of the selected students. With one day left to spare, we were able to gain permission and enrollment on all our student participants! Now the only thing we had to wait on, was our order of supplies and materials. But we had a contingency plan for that too!
This project taught me that often time changes will be dictated by the boss or upper management that can present a certain amount of risk. Although our Principal had the authority to make decisions that we were obligated to follow, we were fortunate in that she was willing to listen to our concerns and alternative suggestions. The success of a project can be determined in the PM’s ability to effectively identify and communicate the risks along with providing a written contingency plan. “The best strategy for addressing risk focuses on minimizing the chances that the risks will occur, developing contingency plans in they do occur, and continually updating the project’s risk management plan throughout the remainder of the project” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton & Kramer, 20007).
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.