It was mid-March 2020 when Sinead Mullen started thinking that her team at KIPP St. Louis needed to change focus. The team of five consultants was several weeks into working on strategy for the six charter schools that make up KIPP St. Louis when Mullen, a partner in Bain’s Chicago office, started to really worry about the pandemic.
Covid-19 had only begun to affect St. Louis. Spring break was coming up, and administrators expected they might have to extend it by perhaps a week. In Chicago, things looked worse, and Mullen began to lobby Kelly Garrett, the executive director, to pause the strategy work and set up a “Covid war room.”
He agreed, and the Bain team shifted gears, approaching the case as they would an Agile corporate transformation. A daily stand-up meeting launched, at which KIPP leadership ticked through all the most pressing issues of the day. Each member of the Bain team was partnered with a member of Garrett’s leadership group, and together each pair took on a specific issue. Almost all of KIPP’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, so in addition to navigating the shift to virtual learning and ensuring staff and student safety, KIPP had to distribute food and technology to current students and alumni forced home from college.