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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Business of Learning

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting of Green Island area business leaders hosted by Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan. It was a great opportunity to get acquainted with people representing many different organizations around town. But why would a school superintendent appear at a meeting of business leaders? It's because the Green Island Union Free School District is an educational enterprise serving hundreds of learners and thousands of taxpayers as customers, employing over fifty people, and exercising an annual operating budget of a fraction under seven million dollars. We are clearly a business. Our business involves growing people by feeding them experiences, skills, and knowledge with the goal of enhancing their future, sustaining their hopes, and nurturing their dreams - and we must do this while balancing the needs of the children with the ability of the community to offer the resources necessary for this endeavor.

As such, we have interests shared with many of the other businesses represented at the breakfast meeting. We place a premium on communications and marketing. For instance, our district just received the highest possible rating of "excellence" in a statewide competition sponsored by the New York State School Board Association involving the judging of school websites. This blog is another example of extending communication between school and community. Our School News Notifier is yet another example. All of these efforts go beyond our traditional note/call/email from the teacher to the parent. Our "bottom line" is performance as measured by the results of state mandated tests of learning standards created by new York State. We carefully examine the data from these tests to indicate our progress and respond with a continuous improvement plan with the same conscientious attitude that one would evaluate their revenue and expenditures to determine how solvent their business is. Customer service is another link we share with businesses. Recent surveys administered to staff, learners, and parents have provided us with valuable information on the degree to which we meet the expectations of those we serve. Financial well being is certainly an area we monitor closely to meet our responsibility to be as efficient as possible. We explore opportunities to access and invest local, state, and federal funds to leverage success. We must practice fiscal conservancy like everyone else, being careful, planning ahead, and maximizing our resources.

Perhaps the best example of our role in the "business" of Green Island is found in the impact we have on the community. Quality of life is a key  issue with people buying homes and the perceptions people have of the school, particularly prospective house buyers, enters into their decision making process. Education is a significant investment in the future of children. Parents interested in protecting that investment want to make sure that their children will receive a high return for their tax dollars. If consumers have a low level of confidence in the school's ability to make a difference in their child's future then they will likely turn elsewhere when they hunt for a home. If enough people brush Green Island aside as an educational option, then that impacts the supply and demand in the local housing market - which effects the average price of homes in Green Island for anyone who intends to sell a house or anyone seeking a home equity loan. You can talk to a realtor and they can explain this relationship with more precision and dollars and cents.

I have seen the way an improving school or an excellent school can make a difference in the housing market by shaping supply and demand. The more people who want to purchase a house in a particular district, the more the seller can charge to take advantage of supply and demand. Effective schools can become the rising tide that floats all boats. As Chief Executive Officer of the Green Island Educational Enterprise, it is my responsibility to be the steward of the organization and lead it to its collective potential, not only to benefit the children of the school, but to positively impact the quality of life in the community, the general perception of the community, and the economic viability of the community. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work with Mayor McNulty-Ryan and others who share an interest in constructing a better future for Green Island.

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