Faith In Your Future
It To The Public
Marriage Of Convenience
Taking It To The Public
In Garden City, Kan., the school district solved familiar problems with a unique solution. The problems were constant school board turnover, dissension and the inability to improve educational standards. And the unique solution? The Garden City Unified School District employed volunteer participation and open communication to successfully turn their district around.
Faced with mounting community dissatisfaction in the local educational system, the school board appointed Dr. Milt Pippenger as Superintendent of schools. Pippenger had a reputation for tackling difficult district problems head on, and he didn't disappoint those who hired him. The new superintendent quickly developed a plan called an "accountability vision," to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the business practices and administrative procedures of the district. Once a method of assessment and means of improvement was in place, Pippenger reasoned, a continual reevaluation program could be utilized to keep the district on the right track.
To gather information on the current status of each school, a focus survey was sent to Garden City's principals. The principals rated the operations, communication and instruction of their schools in terms of performance and commented on what strengths and weaknesses were observed.
"Principals were our primary source of feedback regarding the actual status of the administration on the advent of our research," says co-author of the Garden City study Gary Schlappe, of the CPA firm Lewis, Hooper and Dick, LLC, Garden City, Kan. "Principals really have their fingers on the pulse because of their unique position within the school system." Survey comments suggested a sequence of departments and subjects to be reviewed, including operations, instruction and communications.
Before any work could be done on these three core areas, Pippenger knew he needed the support of the community - and that didn't just include concerned parents. Garden City Schools needed the business community's participation. Once again, Pippenger planned to tackle the issue head on. In a meeting with business community members, Pippenger emphasized that, just like any other consumer relationship, with education what you get is what you pay for. The newcomer argued that the way in which Garden City viewed its educational system must be changed: "This," said Pippenger, "is a consumer relationship."
Business Leaders Bite
The new volunteer team agreed on a common purpose: the Garden City Unified School District must effectively and efficiently prepare graduates for their adult lives. To accomplish that goal, the district needed to apply the principles of open communication and active participation to identify Garden City's problems and begin fixing them.
Laying the Foundation
Keeping their first meeting with Pippenger in mind, the volunteer team changed the focus of each area of operations to customer service. "Throughout the entire evaluative process, we wanted to think of our students as customers who buy a service - educational skills they can use to make the most of their lives," says Schlappe.
The team established three objectives: to improve the use of resources by reducing costs and time requirements; to commend the Garden City United School District for all positive aspects of their daily procedures; and to implement a continually self-improving program, whereby departments are reviewed on a regular rotating basis.
Unsure of how to evaluate the operations of Garden City's schools, the volunteer team sought outside resources. One primary resource was the Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C. School District's evaluation program, in which the district made an impressive turnaround. Although the Charlotte-Mecklenberg program did not include operations, it still served as a model for what Pippenger and his team planned to undertake. The Garden City volunteers also reviewed information from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program for Education Pilot Criteria, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the American Management Association.
Hixson and Geiser reported back to the volunteer team and Pippenger. In concurrence with the accountability vision, the volunteers determined the components of the superintendent's office should include being mission-driven; regularly employing business and education reviewers; maintaining a good knowledge base of large business operations; performing regular departmental reviews focused on cost, personnel and procedures; and maintaining independence from the school district itself.
Volunteer teams reported findings through working with various departments within operations and the accountability vision for operations became more clearly defined. "Establishing a vision-guidelines is extremely significant for Garden City Schools," Pippenger says. "We're a big school district, employing a lot of people in the area. We have to be just as organized, focused and defined as any other big employer." Pippenger's smile fades for a moment, as he reckons with the severity of his task. "More so, in fact, because we're dealing with the potential of young people's lives."