“Every child. Every chance. Every day.”
That’s the focus the School District of Osceola County, Fla. adopted this school year to ensure every student has a chance at success.
It’s part of the district’s broader three-year strategic plan aimed at taking Osceola from “Good to Great,” which the school board and district leadership adopted in 2016. According to superintendent Dr. Debra Pace, this holistic approach is paying off.
“Our strategic plan has played a major role in our success,” Dr. Pace says. “Since implementation, we’ve been able to move our school grade from a C to a B.” The district has also seen continuous improvement in its graduation rate, reaching 89.2 percent for the class of 2018.
These improvements come despite rapid growth in the district and its surrounding community. The district now serves 67,000 students, from more than 100 countries across 50 district and 21 charter schools. Eighty-two percent of students are on free-or reduced-price lunch.
Dr. Pace says there are many reasons for the district’s success–not the least of which is the commitment it has made to improving customer service.
“Teaching and learning are at the heart of every school district. That is our key mission,” Dr. Pace says:
“But, our board, from the very beginning, also wanted to emphasize that customer service is a school board priority. They believe that internal and external stakeholders are our customers, and it’s up to all of us to make sure we’re providing service that is respectful, prompt, and complete in order to ensure that they walk away understanding they are important.”
Dr. Pace and her team, including Public Information Officer Dana Schafer, worked with the school board to develop models and guidelines for effective customer service. The team then established four areas of focus to create a strong customer experience:
- Courtesy and respect. The School District of Osceola County aims to be helpful in all customer interactions says Schafer. This includes maintaining privacy and confidentiality when necessary and responding to every inquiry “in a manner that is friendly and professional.”
- Communication. The district established guidelines for front-line communicators to respond to messages and phone calls. This includes greeting customers immediately, answering phones in three rings or less, and using the school’s and staff member’s name in greetings.
- Responsiveness. District leaders established a standard for replying to email and phone calls within 24 hours of receiving them. In a school serving students from 100 different countries, responsiveness also means finding someone to assist when translation is needed.
- Environment. The district sought to create an open, safe, and inviting school environment to greet students and families. This included staff members wearing identification badges and schools posting open office hours for parents.
Tracking progress and accountability
In the first year of its strategic plan, Osceola leaders focused on training staff to deliver exceptional customer experiences. This included professional development training and a Red Carpet Awards program for departments that delivered high-quality customer service.
In year two, Dr. Pace and her team put the focus on accountability and tracking results.
To do this, the district turned to Let’s Talk!, K12 Insight’s customer experience and community engagement tool.
Through a tab on the district website, parents, students, staff, and other community members can ask questions and share comments directly with administrators. On the backend, each inquiry is instantly routed to the correct staff member or team to issue a timely reply. The system also tracks response times and allows customers to issue feedback scores, rating the quality of each interaction.
The district piloted the tool among the community relations department during the busy back-to-school season. “It was an extremely busy time,” Schafer says, “and it provided an outstanding platform to answer questions from our stakeholders.”
Following the successful back-to-school pilot, district departments were brought on to the platform to manage their own interest areas and topics.
3 forms of customer service
The School District of Osceola County uses Let’s Talk! in three distinct ways to build a culture of customer service.
1. To share feedback and questions
The feedback and questions tab on the website invites students, parents, and other community members to submit questions, suggestions, concerns, comments, or even compliments about important issues. Customers can choose to submit feedback via specific “interest areas,” in which case their feedback is automatically routed to the correct team or department. They can also submit general questions to be received and distributed by Schafer’s team. Through Let’s Talk!, district leaders can easily ensure feedback gets to the right departments and is addressed in a timely manner.
2. To share compliments
“As part of our strategic plan,” explains Schafer, “we were looking for ways to engage stakeholders to share the positive stories on our district’s journey from Good to Great.”
Schafer’s team created the “Share Your Great” initiative, which encourages community members to use Let’s Talk! to share inspirational people, powerful movements, heartwarming stories, or creative outlets happening in the district. District staff then review the submissions and post them to the website and on social media.
“One of the challenges we all face in education,” says Dr. Pace, “is the negative perceptions of public education and public educators. One of our strategic plan initiatives–community engagement–was not just about getting more people involved in our schools, but about really working to change the perception of education in Osceola County.”
3. To share health and safety concerns
Student health and safety are vital to creating a positive school culture. As part of its strategic plan, Osceola used Let’s Talk! to create Keep Osceola Safe.
The online portal offers a dedicated place for students, parents, and staff to ask important safety questions, report instances of bullying, or report potential physical or social-emotional threats. Submissions are immediately routed to the district safety team to investigate and respond.
“Even if it’s anonymous, we want community members to say something.” Schafer says. “This really has allowed us to stay in front of, and take proactive measures when security issues happen.”
For Dr. Pace, this proactive approach to school safety is invaluable:
“As we all know, school safety and security is on everyone’s mind when you’re in the field of education, today. We have had far less disruptions to our school days through lockdowns and those types of things–as well callouts because of random social media posts–than ever before, because we’ve been able to use this tool to be proactive and get in front of potential threats or issues on our campus.”
For more on how The School District of Osceola County uses Let’s Talk! to deliver high-quality customer experiences and meet the goals of its strategic plan, be sure to watch our recent Education Week webinar, featuring Dr. Pace and Dana Schafer.