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Top 5 criteria for selecting a new vendor & one that meets them all

Every time my scholastic support rep came into my school he had a new observation or something uniquely positive to share about our school, students, or the community. He would say things like, “Darrin, there is just something about this school man. When I come in the door it just feels different, the energy it alive here.”  Rick was unique in this way, he wasn’t just there to sell caps, gowns, and class rings to our students. No, he was a true partner with our school, someone who has become a lifelong friend of mine.

As a school or district leader, one of the roles that come with the job is working with a variety of outside entities. Vendors of many walks of life will reach out to you, or may already be working with your school. When we sign an agreement with a vendor of any kind, we are entering into a partnership of sorts. We are granting this person and/or company access to our students in some way. We cannot take this responsibility lightly. As an early career leader, especially my first year as the principal, I didn’t really understand everything that went into partnering with so many different vendors. I worked not only with Rick for caps and gowns, but also companies for beverage vending, yearbooks, software, staff wellness, professional development, and many other offerings. It took some time for me to really learn what it meant to be in these relationships with other professionals and to develop my list of what was important when partnering with someone.

So, to help you, here is a list of five keys to look for when partnering with an outside vendor.

  1. What problems do they help solve and what does it cost? When a vendor comes to you they will have an offer of some kind. Don’t get caught up in the offer, or how great of a deal it might be. Rather, ask yourself, and them, what problems do they help to solve. So often in education we chase after solutions to problems we may not have even identified yet. This leads to teachers feeling overwhelmed and with too much on their plate. Learn from the salesperson or representative how they help alleviate a specific challenge. Then, make sure it is a need for your school, your teachers, your students. If it isn’t, say no thank you and move on. This is why I like EVERFI, they assist in solving the problem of providing your teachers with enough engaging & research-backed resources to give students a high-quality education without impacting your budget at all.
  2. What experience have others had with them? One of the best things about our world today is the connectivity we have at our fingertips. As a building principal, and superintendent for that matter, I developed a fantastic network of other leaders that I could lean on at any time. When choosing to work with a vendor, leverage your network and find out what experiences others have had with the company and/or the salesperson. If it has been positive, you’ll know. If it has not been, you need to really think about learning from others and whether or not you want to enter into an agreement. And don’t be afraid to ask them for a few testimonials. If they can’t (or won’t), that’s a pretty good sign that you should look elsewhere.
  3. What is the mission of the company? Most businesses are working to make a profit, and we don’t blame them for that. Some companies are non-profit but still have a board of directors to answer to on some level. But the key for me is knowing what the mission is for the company and how are they living it out. EVERFI is a great example of a company that is living their mission in a way that benefits schools and students. Their mission is to provide teachers with high quality resources to teach essential life skills at no cost.
  4. What connections does the vendor have or seek out? Not all vendors will be working with other entities. But those who are, if they are well aligned, bring both strength and flexibility with their work. Here, I will again mention EVERFI. On their own, they are a strong company that provides awesome digital lesson content in a variety of areas like financial literacy, health and wellness, character education and more. But, behind the brand are partnerships with the NFL, MassMutual Foundation, Patagonia, Truist Bank, and many more. These partners not only pay for the cost of EVERFI’s resources and support in all school districts, but they host school events, provide teachers & admin with opportunities to learn from experts in their field, as well as give away over $300k in college scholarships.
  5. Relationships matter. I mentioned Rick to open this post, because the relationship he and I developed over time became a key reason our partnership continued. Trust is essential in any relationship and when you trust the person you are partnering with for the betterment of your school it is amazing what can be accomplished. Be mindful of the relationships you are building with representatives of other companies. I like to have a partner that is going to be there every step of the way; not someone who’s going to be missing in action when I have a question. With EVERFI, every school district has a dedicated team that provides every level of administrator and teacher with curriculum alignment, teacher training, tech support, and more. Again, all at no cost thanks to their network of partners.

At the end of the day, it’s all about alignment.

  • Do their solutions align with the needs of your teachers and budget?
  • Does their mission and reputation align with your own?
  • Do they bring the community together for a common goal or cause unnecessary disruption?
  • Do they align with your goal of providing staff and students with unwavering support?

If the answer to those questions are “yes,” then I say go for it. And if you’re looking for new, turnkey resources to teach personal finance, health & wellness, character development and more, then I suggest checking out EVERFI.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


Episode 100 is right around the corner on the “Leaning into Leadership” podcast. Tune in this week for episode 98, where my guest is school culture expert Phil Boyte.

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