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How Indianapolis Public Schools’ Ashley Cowger has championed culture change districtwide

Successful change management takes time and careful, strategic planning. Through their Rebuilding Stronger plan, IPS has proven extensive change is possible with the right vision, metrics, and partners. Read more about their achievements below.
2 minutes

No matter the size of a district, there are multiple stakeholder groups with hundreds of questions on dozens of topics. And they each have myriad channels through which to ask. 

A school district with 10,000 students receives about 26,000 inbound inquiries a year on average. 

Most families aren’t sure where to go when they need help. And when they do ask, most expect a response within 24 hours. 

But the reality is their inquiries might have landed in an inbox managed by several different people, or the wrong inbox, or on a voicemail that doesn’t get checked often enough. 

In many school districts, when messages go to the wrong person or department, we hope they’re redirected correctly — but there isn’t always a way to check. Staff are forced to juggle multiple inbound channels without backend workflows or clear interdepartmental communications.

This phenomenon — thousands of messages from dozens of groups flowing through myriad channels and landing in siloed inboxes — is known as the “tangled web of inbound communications.” 

The tangled web of inbound communications

Many districts utilize a departmental or campus-based approach to customer service

Unevolved methods result in a districtwide communications strategy that is more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive than it needs to be.

A few years ago, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) was in a similar situation. They had six systems that didn’t talk to each other, backend frustrations from burnt-out staff, and dissatisfied families experiencing poor customer service.   

They knew they needed a change. 

When they found Let’s Talk from K12 Insight, they realized it could help. However, Executive Director of Strategy & Integration Ashley Cowger knew it would take more than a software implementation. 

The district launched the IPS Rebuilding Stronger plan, an extensive, districtwide initiative that included a communications transformation. Their goal was to develop a system that allowed for an effective exchange of information with built-in workflows and automation so they could collaborate to serve staff and families. 

Superior service requires intentional design

Some of the biggest changes from the Rebuilding Stronger plan centered on solving organization-wide workflow issues. 

Previously, IPS had siloed communications systems, but Let’s Talk’s unified inbox collects inquiries from every channel in one, streamlined location — automatically routing messages to the correct person or department based on keywords.

Backend communications and data tracking allow visibility into districtwide workflows, ensuring the right people are answering the right questions quickly. 

Metrics like average response time and customer experience score help ensure superior customer service at every touchpoint, guaranteeing no question goes unanswered and negative experiences can be addressed professionally.    

These solutions game-changed the way business got done within the district. But a customer service platform isn’t a silver bullet solution. 

Project management vs. organizational change management 

Districtwide change requires a willingness to listen to feedback and take necessary action. A successful customer service plan is not limited to one department or office, it demands a commitment to family satisfaction that extends from the superintendent’s office to every single campus principal and their staff. 

In short, it takes time and energy. 

But your district has agency to develop a change management strategy that works for you. There are many ideas and examples to pull from, but what matters is developing the right one for your team. 

When developing your plan, ensure it is an organizational solution to an organizational problem — not just in one office or for the duration of one project, but across the full span of your district and with the understanding that a school system will never reach a state of “perfect communications.” 

Change management is an ongoing, ever-growing process.  

Here are three elements of the districtwide change management strategy used by Ashley Cowger and her team at IPS:

Ashley Cowger's strategy for districtwide culture change management.

Choosing the right vendor partner 

Don’t forget your communications and customer service platform vendor is an important part of the team, too! At K12 Insight, we see our client districts as partners in the journey to superior customer service and believe in transparency and honesty about what we can deliver throughout the implementation process.

Our team can be as hands-on or -off as you’d like, and our district partnership representatives often make in-person visits for trainings, back-to-school events, or department-specific professional development.  

We worked with IPS to launch systems to support their Rebuilding Stronger plan, and have introduced new automations, workflows, and ideas to advance streamlined communications practices. 

“The right vendor partner can elevate and advance your goals — K12 Insight is one of those partners.”

— Ashley Cowger, Executive Director of Strategy & Integration, Indianapolis Public Schools 

Successful culture change takes time and planning

With the right vision, metrics, and partners, successful culture change is possible!

If you’re ready to start on the journey to superior customer service delivery and lead successful change management initiatives like IPS, register for a free, no-obligation customer service workshop with one of our experts. These workshops are available to anyone on your team, can be in-person or virtual, and are entirely free-of-charge. Here’s the link to sign up.

By Emily Weinberger
Originally published August 1, 2023 Last updated December 4, 2023