By Peter Osborne
For the first time, Junior Achievement of Delaware has earned 5-Star Status on Junior Achievement USA’s Operating Performance Standards, completing a six-year climb back from being labeled a Chronic Underperformer under newly imposed Operating Performance Standards by the national organization.
Perhaps even more impressive, JA of Delaware ranked first in the nation among 107 area offices for the number of Instructional Contact Hours per Student – a key metric that demonstrates its emphasis on becoming more efficient and focusing on high-impact programs.
“Over the years, the national organization did not have the authority to intervene if chapters were underperforming,” said Rob Eppes, president of Junior Achievement of Delaware Inc, explaining that the recession saw JA office closures and mergers, which led to a change in tone. “They began renegotiating operating agreements and created five core operating indicators and gained the right to step in if an organization wasn’t achieving those standards.”
Junior Achievement organizations are now judged on five categories: Student Growth/Year-over-Year % Change in Contact Hours; Surplus; Cash on Hand; Debt Ratio and Current Ratio, defined as current assets divided by current liabilities. All chapters must meet the criteria for Surplus and at least one of the two student ratios, with the level of the star determined by how many of the other three standards you meet.
JA of Delaware, which joins its sister organizations around the world to celebrate a global centennial this year, has been a 3- and 4-star performer in recent years but this is the first year it’s achieved all five stars.
“We needed to put a focus on cash on hand and addressing our outstanding debt,” Eppes said. “We did that with the help of Rob Siegfried.”
Siegfried, the Founder and CEO of The Siegfried Group, LLP, a national CPA firm based in Wilmington, and a 2017 inductee into JA of Delaware’s Business Hall of Fame, is well known for his commitment to leadership development. After Eppes shared the new operating standards, Siegfried helped the board create a formal multi-year plan, and he, his wife and his firm combined to help them pay down debt and build the level of cash on hand.
“Junior Achievement has touched me for much of my life – as a student at Mount Pleasant High School, as a classroom instructor in Baltimore early in my career, as a Board member more than 15 years ago and now helping us foster the Siegfried Youth Leadership Program for eighth to twelfth grade students in Delaware,” Siegfried said. “In addition to JA’s focus on basic economic and financial education, it is their attention to individual leadership that sets them apart.”
Siegfried said it took him years to recognize that it “isn’t really about leading others, it’s about leading yourself, first and foremost, and JA gets that!”
JA of Delaware’s volunteer-delivered, kindergarten-12th grade programs foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, and use experiential learning to inspire students to reach their potential. It provides turnkey solutions for businesses to engage students through Delaware Pathways; rigorous and proven curriculum to educators for Delaware Financial Literacy Standards; and a world-class business start-up experience for teens.
“These operating standards ensure that JA chapters are ready to continue providing their services in the event a recession hits,” said Eppes. “We have had to make a lot of difficult decisions to focus on more efficient ways to reach the standards and serve our constituents. It was a very difficult process, but it’s paid off.”
In terms of the Instructional Contact Hours per Student achievement, Eppes says it was the result of focusing more on reporting once they learned that many teachers were so supportive of the program that they were teaching additional JA curriculum that wasn’t getting captured.
“They were doing more than we thought because of how valuable they found the program,” he said. “That’s very gratifying and exciting for the future of JA.”