Teach For America
Transforming an organization that transforms kids’ lives
Teach For America was suffering from a typical legacy content problem: on-premises storage solutions were inefficient, protocols were inconsistent, and storage needs were growing quickly. Employees often turned to free tools to store and share content, putting organizational data at risk. IT had little visibility and even less control.
To change the content paradigm, Teach For America first established unlimited data storage by switching to Box, which also made possible collaboration across devices —especially important for a large, dispersed nonprofit. With the move to Box came stronger data security, enabled content governance, and process automation to streamline work.
With Box, the nonprofit significantly reduced IT and storage costs, and increased information sharing and collaboration. Instead of spending time on content administration, teams spend it on mission-focused classroom experiences and enablement activities. Everyone at the organization can now concentrate fully on helping 60,000 teachers (and counting) make the biggest impact on kids.
Education has always been a key pillar of society, yet there’s no escaping the fact that millions of children don’t have access to quality education in the United States. That’s the issue Teach For America has been focused on for nearly three decades. The nonprofit tackles educational disparity head-on by recruiting college graduates from top universities to serve as teachers. After being trained, each of these “corps” teachers commits to teaching at a public school for at least two years, typically in a low-income community highly affected by educational inequality. Today, nearly 60,000 alums in 51 regions have made an impact.
While the organization is busy transforming education, Sandeep Chellani, Chief Information Officer, focuses on transforming the organization itself. For the past few years, he’s been leading Teach For America in adopting Cloud Content Management and a suite of tools that enable stronger work.
Chellani says, “We don’t always necessarily know how to scale our efforts to have the largest impact possible. For us, it’s about finding tools like Box and other technologies and working them into our core vision and business model to enable change in a more accelerated way.”
“Teach For America’s vision is that one day every child in the country will have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education.”
Sandeep Chellani, CIO, Teach For America
A process to onboard teachers faster
Each year, in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, Teach For America supports hundreds of aspiring teachers in meeting rigorous California State requirements. This used to mean submitting critical documents like test scores, resumes, and transcripts via slow mail or insecure email. It was a time-consuming, clunky process.
Teach For America Bay Area remedied this problem by creating an online platform to help onboard aspiring teachers digitally. Not only does it make it easier to share files confidentially and quickly, but the platform, built on Box, orients teachers to their “must do’s” by prioritizing action items with checklists and deadlines. This custom system helps the regional team get things done on time and places new teachers in classrooms more quickly.
“Box brought the right balance of user experience and enterprise technology needs to the table.”
Sandeep Chellani, CIO, Teach For America
Centralized content to bring every stakeholder together
One of Teach For America Bay Area’s internal legal teams faced a similar content problem. As the greater organization moved toward a decentralized model, the 51 individual regional teams found themselves entering into contracts and agreements with organizations all over the country. A sudden influx of such documents would come in through snail mail and have to be reviewed, categorized, and sorted into folders – a paper-based process end-to-end with heavy overhead.
With Box’s workflow capabilities, the Legal team automated the entire process from contract request initiation to collection, categorization and organization across all their regions. This enabled them to transform their reactive, paper-based process into a proactive, streamlined and digital one, saving them a significant amount of time by solving their content management problem at scale. The Legal team and the rest of the organization continue to look at Box Relay to help with further process automation.
On a national scale, Teach For America has adopted Box to collect and store information from constituencies, including staff, donors, board members, coaches, and prospects. Prior to adopting Cloud Content Management with Box, it had been particularly challenging for all of these stakeholders to navigate between multiple government and federal agencies. But when content is uploaded, stored, and shared in the Box environment, data can be governed more easily. There’s much less risk of accidentally sharing sensitive information with the wrong person, and processes are now centralized and structured.
Within Teach For America, coaches often use videos to help train new teachers. But over the years, and with thousands of corps members and a multitude of constituencies, that process has resulted in terabytes of stored video data. Any one coach might be charged with overseeing 20 to 30 trainees at a time. They need to be able to create, store, share, and access videos from classroom to classroom to optimize a consistent teaching experience.
Sandeep compares the need for storage to the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: In the world of content, it’s essential. Box solved that need with unlimited storage. With video content stored securely in the cloud, teams across dispersed regions can easily share their video resources and replicate best teaching practices from team to team.
Just like Maslow’s pyramid illustrates, solving a basic need allowed for growth and evolution within the organization. “As we got deeper and deeper with Box,” he says, “we started unlocking all these use cases and ways to work more seamlessly with our information and knowledge.”
A better solution to security
Data security, of course, is another essential technology need. When employees were using unsanctioned personal accounts and free storage apps, important business data was at risk. Kris Gamache, Senior Managing Director at Teach For America, expressed his concern about that lack of control: “We had no visibility when they were using solutions that we didn’t provide to them.”
Teams within Teach For America also felt the lack acutely. One design team, which had been using another vendor’s solution for sharing files — and spending thousands of dollars per year to do so — lost an entire year’s worth of images and videos due to a vendor mistake. The team eventually migrated all files to Box and never looked back. Now, work is secure, and they’ve eliminated a line item from the budget.
"If one region has a standard of excellence around the way they are using Box, we want it to be visible and able to be adopted by another region."
Kris Gamache, Senior Managing Director at Teach For America
Technology behind the scenes, kids at the forefront
Ultimately, Chellani has to think about all the different people who use content at Teach For America, and what would help them be most productive and happy. Some people work in an office, some from home, and some in the classroom. Box ended up being a solution for all these styles of working. It enables the use of varying types of devices and allows staff to now take work anywhere they go. In a large, dispersed organization whose work is largely performed “in the field,” this has been a critical improvement and a step toward exponential productivity.
Collaboration tools and increased information sharing have helped to establish consistent experiences across multiple regions. Teach For America cut the amount of time spent on administrative issues, and team members now have more time to work toward the company’s key mission: enabling teachers to be the best they can be and to make the biggest impact on the kids. Everything else can be done seamlessly by technology on the background.
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