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Is this what’s missing from your district’s strategic plan?

strategic plan

Take a look at most any school district strategic plan and you’ll likely find a reference–if not an entire section–devoted to improving community engagement.

Unfortunately, despite the time, effort, and coordination required to create these documents, many end up doing little more than gathering dust on the shelf.

Debra Pace, superintendent, School District of Osceola County, Fla.

When Debra Pace became superintendent at the School District of Osceola County, Fla., she was determined to create a plan the district could actually use. Together with her team and members of the school board, Pace’s three-year plan sought to take Osceola from “Good to Great.”

“It was important for us not to have a strategic plan that just sat on a shelf and got reviewed annually,” says Dana Schafer, public information officer for the district.

Prioritizing quality customer service

Community engagement was a critical element of the district’s ambitious three-year plan, which called for school leaders to:

  1. “Communicate the value that education and education professionals add to the Osceola community,” and
  2. “Engage community stakeholders to build understanding of the importance of education in our community’s future.”

For Osceola, it wasn’t enough to merely communicate better, administrators wanted to provide a better overall experience for parents, students, and staff. That included a commitment to stronger customer service.

To support its plan, district leaders set rigorous standards aligned to four key pillars of service:

  • Courtesy and respect
  • Communication
  • Responsiveness
  • Environment

Rolling out the red carpet

To promote the district’s newfound commitment to service, administrators rolled out a Red Carpet Awards program, recognizing schools and district departments for going above and beyond in their commitment to the community. After an initial application process, community and business leaders served as “secret shoppers” in efforts to assess the level of customer service provided at participating schools and departments.

The winners were announced at an administrators’ back-to-school function and received red carpets that they put outside their doors to signify the distinction.

Dana Schafer, public information officer, School District of Osceola County, Fla.

As the program moved into its second year, school district leaders sought a way to better measure the customer experience, and apply more accountability to the process.

“We could say how many people got red carpets,” Schafer explains, “but there just wasn’t a lot of data behind it.”

To help, the district adopted Let’s Talk!, a cloud-based school community engagement and customer service solution from K12 Insight.

Through a special button and 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 reply. The system also tracks response times and allows customers to issue feedback scores, rating the quality of each interaction.  

Pace and her team now use feedback scores as a data point to help measure progress toward the district’s strategic goals.

“In the past, we could say ‘in this area of customer experience we think things are better in the district,’ but Let’s Talk! has provided some accountability and data that we needed to show we were moving the needle,” explains Schafer.

So far, administrators say those efforts are paying off. The average feedback score received is an impressive 9 out of 10.

More than a shelf document

Osceola isn’t alone in its efforts to make customer experience a vital part of its strategic plan:

  • At School District U-46 in Illinois, district leaders included a priority in the community engagement section of its strategic plan to “Increase parents’ satisfaction rates on how welcome and respected they feel within the district.” To help support this effort, the district implemented Let’s Talk! to track and improve the quality of community interactions. It also provided training for central office and support staff, principals, and parent liaisons through a series of in-person customer experience workshops.
  • Isaac School District #5 in Arizona lists one of its strategic priorities as: “Strong relationships through effective communication and excellent customer service.” One of its goals is to “create a culture of customer service” by auditing current customer service initiatives, training staff on customer service best practices, and gathering feedback on the district’s ongoing customer experience efforts using Let’s Talk!.
  • Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina also highlights community engagement and a focus on customer service in its strategic plan. The plan states:Strengthen customer service, especially in areas with a high volume of parent calls and visits.”

Want to learn more about the School District of Osceola County’s effort to make customer service a strategic priority? Don’t miss our exclusive webinar featuring superintendent Debra Pace and Public Information Officer Dana Schafer May 1 at 2 pm EDT. Hosted in partnership with Education Week, the online presentation will provide an inside look at how the district took its strategic plan from “Good to Great.” Register here.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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