Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Business of Schooling

Educators typically resist comparisons between business and education, after all schools are not profit driven. When you think of business, I am sure that schools aren't the first things that come to mind. Business exists to make profit for shareholders and investors. This is typically accomplished through the manufacture of a product by starting with a raw material, and then selling it for more than it cost to produce. Or the business provides a valuable service or commodity that is sold for a profit. 

Obviously education as an institution does not exist to make a profit. But make no mistake, we are producing a very valuable commodity. Our stockholder group is immense, and these investors expect a return on their investment. The raw material that we begin with is rough; but shaped, molded and fine tuned over the course of many years it will produce what we hope will one day become a stockholder in our enterprise.

The raw material that we work with is the student. Our challenge is that each unit of raw material is special and unique. Each begins at a different point and requires an individualized approach to learning. Some students enter kindergarten with a vocabulary of 13,000 words while another may have a vocabulary of 7,000. This variable will undoubtedly contribute to the rate at which the youngster learns to read. As these children go through school they will continue to grow and learn at different rates. Some will need extra time to learn the skills and content of some academic disciplines, while others will pick up these aptitudes a bit quicker.

The business of schooling is a very labor intensive enterprise. Our labor force is complex and composed of multiple divisions; all of which play a critical role in our enterprise. First is a highly trained group of teachers and paraprofessionals. Teachers and paraprofessionals work with the students entrusted to them and fully understand that there is no quality control department that can be blamed when the instruction fails to meet the needs of the learner. This group [of teachers and paraprofessionals] is essential to the functioning of the school. They must have the ability to mold their students in a manner that ensures continued growth, no matter where they fall on that spectrum of preparedness. They must be well equipped to solve problems of instruction, and have in their toolbox a plethora of instructional strategies designed to meet the needs of an ever changing diverse group of learners. 

An often overlooked division of the school is the transportation department. How else might you get the students to the 'business' that is the school? The drivers of our fleet have the responsibility of ensuring the safe delivery of this precious cargo to and from the school each and every day. Often times the school bus driver is the first representative of the school that the students see each day. In addition to the safe passage of our young people, it is the drivers who have the most contact with the public. It is through the interactions of these drivers who log somewhere in the vicinity of 70,000 miles per year (enough to circle the globe almost three times) that they act as Ambassadors of the school.

The maintenance department is another division of our enterprise that is sometimes not noticed--unless of course there is a problem. With a staff of only 5; this group has the responsibility of ensuring that our facilities are clean and safe every day. Summertime is among the busiest for this division. Every piece of furniture is touched, cleaned, and moved into the hallways so all the floors can be waxed and prepared for the new school year. Equipment repairs that they didn't have time to complete during the school year are completed, and other projects are completed that can only be done while students are out of the buildings.

Food service practically serves as an enterprise in it's own right. During the 2013-2014 school year, this division served approximately 77,441 meals! With a staff of 10, they are responsible for ensuring that our student body has nutritious and healthy meals. Without this division, it would be nearly impossible to fulfill our educational mission. Hungry students do not learn well!

When you think of administration, I am sure that you automatically think of the building principals and superintendent--but the folks that really make the school run smoothly are the clerical staff. Once again, a small staff of 6; this group knows where everyone is, how to answer the multitude of questions that come their way, and do their best to make sure that everyone is well taken care of! Like the transportation department, this group often times has the greatest contact with the public and serve as Ambassadors to the school district.

If you count it all up, the school employs approximately 120 individuals. With an annual budget approaching $10 Million, it is important to remember that each one of us that pays taxes is a stockholder in this enterprise. Our expectation for a return on investment should be graduates of our school who are college or career ready. We should expect those 'end products' to ultimately become Contributing Citizens where they can contribute to our economy and society as a whole. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

You Can't Learn That in a Classroom

I really enjoy summertime around the school district, but probably not for the reasons that you are thinking. Most people think it's because of the relative quiet solitude and long periods of uninterrupted work time. Now don't get me wrong that is nice, and it allows me to stay out in front of my various tasks; but it can get a little lonely around here on a late afternoon when everyone is gone. Schools are for kids, and when you don't have them around every day you start to miss them! 

On many days the office here is relatively quiet. We may have a few visitors now and then--perhaps a youngster looking for student driving permit, a new family moving into town looking for registration material, or a teacher that is stopping to see if their summer order has arrived. Other than that it can be pretty quiet, at least in here. Because of this, I am lucky to have the opportunity to get out in the district and see what is going on. As I was walking around the district earlier in the week, I realized that this was probably the busiest summer we have had in my tenure for facilities and improvement projects. 

Outside this office, the district really is bustling--and there is still quite a bit of learning occurring. We have electricians that have spent time re-wiring the oldest computer lab in the district. Those same electricians spent a significant amount of time replacing the light fixtures in the high school gymnasium.

Speaking of the high school gymnasium, we had a crew that came in a few weeks ago and repainted the space (it looks fabulous by the way). Following that, we had new baskets installed. The floor is scheduled to be sanded and painted in the next two weeks in advance of the new bleachers, which are scheduled for installation right before school starts.

Of course you have probably seen the work that is going on in the North parking lot, the excavation that is taking place at the hotel property, or even the prep work that is happening to get ready for the installation of the new stadium scoreboard. What learning, right?

Most of this work is being done by skilled trades, and they learned (and in some cases are learning) their trades on the job! It is pretty neat to watch a bulldozer or backhoe work---but to operate one? That is something that you have to learn from an experienced expert. Some of these workers for various contractors are novices or in apprenticeship programs learning how to finish concrete. By the way, watching concrete being poured and finished is pretty interesting and looks relatively easy--- but trust me it's not. I tried it and it is very difficult. It takes a lot of talent, strength, and believe it or not an artistic flair. Go out to the north parking lot and see if you can tell which parts of the curb were poured with a machine and which were done by hand. I'll bet you would be impressed!

Here is my point. Our goal for graduates of the Hudson Community School District is to ensure that they are college or career ready.  A key benchmark for measuring that goal can be found in our Learner Performance Goals. Meeting those goals mean simply that graduates should be prepared to make a decision. Either they go to college or they enter the workforce. Both are vitally important to our society. Not everyone needs to go to college, and not everyone needs to enter the workforce. Our job is to provide each student that graduates from high school with the ability to make a decision for themselves. What is their passion? What do they want to do? 

Then it gets pretty cool. You start to see graduates returning to the community not as students, but as Contributing Citizens. Maybe they are a teacher in the school system. Or maybe they are a heavy equipment operator moving dirt on a major construction project. We need both!