PORTLAND, Ore. — Two workshops on Tuesday during the National Association for Pupil Transportation's (NAPT) Annual Summit focused on organizational culture (i.e., the atmosphere and structure of a workplace) and how to create a high-performing team at one's workplace.
Mary Paulson, chief of staff and quality assurance management representative at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore., headed the first workshop. The Salem-Keizer district recently implemented a number of change initiatives and reform efforts throughout the entire school system to improve its service to students.
Paulson said that there were several driving forces behind the change initiatives: the staff members in many of the district's departments were confused about who was responsible for certain tasks, there was a lack of trust between departments and supervisors and employees within departments due to micromanaging, and student achievement was below the state average.
Salem-Keizer based its change initiatives and reform efforts on the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9001 quality management system. Reform efforts were applied to a number of areas, including instruction and operations. In regard to operations in particular, the district worked on increasing teaching, training, credibility and trust.
Paulson said that in order to integrate these reforms into the district, staff members had to first be convinced that change was needed. This was achieved by providing them with hard data on student achievement, as well as anecdotal data. Creating a shared vision for the school system's goals was also necessary to establish a mentality that everyone was part of a team and that everyone plays an integral role in working toward the district's vision.
Another component to the quality assurance system that has been adopted by Salem-Keizer is that employees now have the power to change the status quo. Paulson said that frontline employees have the authority to change procedures if they feel that it could increase productivity.
The district's staff has also worked on communicating with one another and continually strives to establish avenues for employees to give one another feedback without fearing retribution.
To read about how the district's quality management system has impacted its transportation department, click here.
Following Paulson's presentation, other members of the Salem-Keizer Public Schools staff discussed how to establish a high-performance team at one's pupil transportation operation. Michael Shields, director of transportation, began by outlining some qualities of a high-performing staff. Those qualities include an ability to talk to one another, help each other and admit mistakes, an ability to be flexible, and an ability to practice, execute and adjust plans.
At the helm of a high-performing team, Shields said, is a leader. A leader must develop a vision for his or her operation and establish a plan for making that vision come to fruition. As an example, he said that his vision for his operation is to have a clean, safe shop and for everyone in his staff to work well together. To this end, it took him a long time to hire an additional technician for his maintenance team because he wanted to find someone who would work well with the other technicians.
Shields said that leaders also need to be aware of their employees' skills and help them use those skills to support the operation's vision. This requires coaching, encouraging and training employees and providing them with tools for success.
On hand to offer suggestions on how to have high-performing teams within the maintenance and operational sectors of a transportation department were David Farley, head mechanic at Salem-Keizer Public Schools, and Kevin Baker, lead router.
Farley recommended creating a one-year roadmap that outlines the staff's intended goals for each quarter. In the long term, a three- to five-year action plan can be drafted, and it should align with the transportation department's overall vision or mission. He also noted the importance of developing measurable data points related to, for example, preventive maintenance in order to track progress in accomplishing long- and short-term goals.
Baker continued in this vein, suggesting that operations set up periodic reviews of procedures and modify them as needed to increase efficiency. He also urged attendees to document processes that work.