Friday, September 16, 2005

Archimedes comes to Henry

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. ~ Archimedes

Despite the power of electrons flowing at the command of fingers on keyboard, simple tools still do most of the real work in the world. Wheels & axles, inclined plains, levers...whatever those other two are.... I was reminded of that during these first two weeks of the school year.

Well, not really about actual tools turning back-breaking labor into light work. More like about how the right resources, appropriately leveraged, can move large loads - tangible or perceived. I'm not sure who to label the lever and who the fulcrum, but the quick coordination of parents and administrators, from Carpenter Lane all the way to North Broad Street by way of Mt. Pleasant, moved a 273 school, 196,000 student, 25,000 employee load.

Picture this: you show up the week before Kindergarten for your teacher conference to learn that 36 bouncing bottles of sunshine are enrolled in the same class as your child. It's enough to make some parents want to scream.

The first call came in, I think about 20 minutes after I got to the office that first morning of Kindergarten conferences. "I just want you to know we have 37 kids in our class and this is NOT what we signed up for." Great. Then an email from a mom. Then another call. By the end of the day, we were wondering if people were reaching for the panic button, or if we could encourage enough patience to learn the plan & process.

We called & emailed the Principal and the Regional Superintendent, confident and comfortable in our productive interactions in the past that we'd hear (a) the official rule on handling class size, and (b) the plan for addressing the oversized Kindergarten classes. Their responses were quick and assuring: if the number of kids who show up match the predicted enrollment, we'd get another teacher, dropping the class size.

We got just what we expected: "With those numbers, assuming they remain that high once students are actually attending, you'll get another classroom."

The district sets class sizes for all schools on a predictive model:

n/m = c

n = number of students on the roll before school begins

m = maximum class size allowed by district mandate

c = classes needed to accommodate n

By Thursday morning, the third day of Kindergarten, we had a third class, dropping the class size to 22 - 23 students per class. Now with district action to help parents mellow a bit, we thanked the Principal and the Regional Superintendent for being the lever...fulcrum...whatever...that demonstrated the ability of the district to respond to parent concerns in a timely and effective manner.

Not that the district did anything it wouldn't have done anyway: 36 kindergarteners dictates another classroom. Period. But the rules call for a "leveling," or official count and action if necessary, as of October 1. What we accomplished was speeding process, averting attrition among families with choice.

So I think I'm ready to make the call:

* the fulcrum is the collection of families who could choose to send their kids to any school, and who have chosen Henry. As with many choices, these families have the ability, voiced convincingly to the school and district, to rescind their decisions if practice betrays perception.

* the lever is the well-coordinated team of school and district administrators who took quick and effective action to respond to valid concerns of their growing customer base. They cut through some red tape, maybe called in some favors, and averted a scenario that is all-too familiar: more families with the luxury of choice moving away from the district. As of tonight, all the new Kindergarten families are still committed to the school.

* the necessary power that Archimedes fails to mention in his bravado is the demonstrated willingness of Henry families to match district action with resources. The district knows that Henry families are working throughout the year to help our teachers and administration...To bring funds and expertise to match expectations with recruit more families with resources, effective networks, and energy to turn our common dreams into reality...and the experience and patience to support, rather than battle, the people in the district who share our goals.

So thanks, Archimedes, for stopping by. And thanks for keeping Athena at bay, for now.

1 comment:

100tek said...

That panic button is so anguished....