With 42 schools serving more than 26,000 students and roughly twice as many parents, Richland 2 has a considerable customer base to serve in the new school year, which started Wednesday.
And while maintaining effective communication has long been a priority, the district is heightening efforts to improve its “customer service” experience – particularly for families that move regularly. The goal is to foster greater academic success among all students.
The district has launched Two for You, a Standards for Customer Service program that encourages all district employees to take a bigger role in reaching out to the school community. The program addresses such basics as greeting residents appropriately, responding to needs in a timely manner, safeguarding privacy and confidentiality, and showing an appreciation for the opportunity to serve.
“Ensuring that every parent and student who walks in our schools is treated with respect, dignity and professionalism is one of the major ways all employees can contribute to students’ academic success,” said Shirley Vickery, the district’s Learning Support Services director. “Employees who focus on delivering top-notch customer service build relationships with students and parents. In turn, these families are more eager to participate in school events, complete school work, attend conferences (and the like).”
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Vickery and Abby Cobb, the district’s lead social worker, co-chaired the Transient Student Task Force that developed the program, after being charged by superintendent Debbie Hamm with finding ways to address the needs of students who move frequently between schools or to other districts.
District officials say transient families often are more sensitive to the need for effective communication and that sensitivity was largely at the heart of the new program. And while many of the goals are things that would be expected, Vickery said the added emphasis will provide a much-needed reminder for all employees.
“Two for You provides clear, concise standards that can be easily reinforced and encouraged through training and professional development,” Vickery said. “The customer service campaign also provides the opportunity to remind all employees about the important role they play and how they help build positive relationships that support student success.”
District officials point to research showing that organizations with clear standards have an easier time implementing customer service programs.
“It's important to set high expectations for our students and ourselves,” Hamm said. “We want the culture of our schools to be respectful and welcoming to everyone and want the example the adults set in the school to be a positive influence on our students.”
The district’s task force has established two primary goals – establishing a clear method of quickly gathering and sharing information when students move from one school to another, so their needs are addressed, and identifying ways to increase positive interactions between families and staff members.
It was the second goal that led to the development of districtwide customer service standards.
“By referring to groups as “customers,” we highlight the fact that folks make the choice to attend school in Richland 2, to work for us or to be a community partner with schools,” Vickery said. “We are eager to reinforce that as a positive choice and to emphasize the benefits we gain from having them make a choice for us.”
School officials said the program is hoped to increase parent and family comfort when students are being registered for school while helping it maintain positive interactions with families, even when discussing such difficult topics as academic weaknesses or discipline.
The district is planning initial employee training and a districtwide rollout of the program. The training will include bus drivers, cafeteria workers, office staff, teachers and administrators, and other district employees.