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Strategic Use of Evaluation

Fresno Unified School District
Fresno, California

Think evaluation is best saved for measuring outcomes?

Malati Gopal, full-time evaluator for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Program at Fresno Unified School District, believes incorporating evaluation into the earliest stages of your program is one of the best ways to ensure your program will last beyond the initial funding period. As an integral member of the implementation team, Malati asks strategic questions: How are resources being allocated? Will these decisions advance the ultimate goals of the project? She finds herself in this enviable role by virtue of her grounding in evaluation methods and the support of the project director, Kirk Whitney.

Early on, Malati demonstrated to Kirk that an evaluator can provide ongoing feedback to ensure a project stays on track and that its end goals are met. In turn, Kirk includes Malati in internal meetings and school district meetings so that she understands the context in which decisions are made. Working closely with project staff, Malati is able to provide ongoing feedback in a number of ways, including:

  • Conducting environmental assessments of the communities surrounding Fresno's unified schools. This gives the team the ability to understand what children face outside of the classroom and what needs they may have
  • Filming of implementation for program improvement
  • An evaluator communique that provides periodic feedback on the project's status
  • Needs assessments so that priorities of the direct service staff and the project plan are in agreement

For those who don't have an internal evaluator, Malati's advice is to:

  • View your internal evaluator as an ally, not a taskmaster
  • Strengthen your alliance with your evaluator and provide him/her with total access to your agency and school. Create authentic and open discourse-eliminate jargon
  • And, most important, always look forward to the ultimate goal of your project when allocating resources