The Washoe County School District (WCSD) in Reno, Nevada, with almost 68,000 students and 9,000 staff, is one of an elite few districts in the country to have achieved International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 certification for quality management systems thanks, in large part, to the successful implementation of a program known as process cleaning — and the decade-long efforts of a man for whom a vision became a reality.
"Years ago, after knocking around for a bit, I found myself working as a custodian in a school district. On my first day, I was handed the keys, shown the zone I was to clean, where the tools were and I was told, ''I want it clean'' and that was it," Rex Morrison, WCSD housekeeping training supervisor, said. "I picked up the tools and I started to work. Before I knew it, the night was over, I was done … and I had no idea what I''d done or how I''d done it."
Soon after, Morrison moved to the Washoe County School District, where he found much of the same: He was handed the keys, told they wanted clean classrooms and bathrooms, given a set of tools and was told to "get to it."
When facing such situations, custodians often tend to follow much the same pattern: They develop their own protocol, their own system of doing things that, as long as there are no complaints, is assumed by everyone to be "just fine."
"At that time, in Washoe County there were around 450 custodians. That meant there were 450 ways we cleaned a restroom," Morrison said. "We had no management, no base system in place, no ability to direct and manage inventory, nothing. All things have to start with a standard, and we didn''t have a standard."
A Shift From The Ordinary
Looking for a solution to this downward spiral, Morrison approached the principal of the elementary school where he was head custodian and asked her for something a bit out of the ordinary.
"I said to her, ''I want to go on nights for 60 days. I really want to take a look at what I''ve learned from every system out there, and I want to apply the study of time and motion to the cleaning process; I want to come up with a good way to clean my school,''" he said.
Working the night shift with two other custodians, Morrison started taking best practices and putting them in place.
After much trial and error, he determined that the best way to clean was to have a system where certain steps would be stacked up like a row of dominoes so that the act of executing one step would logically "fall" toward the next; this is the essence of process cleaning.
"Our average time to clean a classroom is six minutes. Most custodians can accomplish that task in about four minutes. But, process cleaning is built around an average speed," Morrison said. "It''s not about working fast, it''s about being thorough, with a real plan in front of you and not deviating from that plan. When we clean, we clean for health. We don''t worry about appearance; when you clean for health, appearance will follow."
The national average, according to Morrison, holds that a custodian can clean 22,000 square feet of student and staff spaces in an eight-hour shift.
WCSD custodians average upwards of 30,000 square feet, he said, and are accomplishing much more than the average custodian.
Recognizing the labor savings potential these numbers represented, Morrison went to the school board and gave them his pitch: "I said, ''You give me 10 schools and, in one year, I''ll save you $180,000 in staff reduction and give you cleaner, more germ-free student and staff spaces, guaranteed.''"
The board agreed and before the allotted year was out, Morrison had reached his goal, with 10 schools successfully executing process cleaning.
"They told me, ''Rex, we think you''ve done a great job, but what we''re hearing is that there''s no way this will work in a high school or in a middle school,''" he said. "They said, ''They''ve got these ballgames going on, stuff going on at night, it''s just too busy. So, add a high school and a middle school to the program, then come back and let us know what''s going on.''"
What Morrison found was that the larger the number of employees at a specific site, the easier it is to make process cleaning work.
Back To Basics
Process cleaning operates from two basic principles: A map of the area and a service assessment log (SAL).
The map is divided into five parts, with each part color-coded to match a certain day: Monday is blue, Tuesday is red and so on.
On arrival, the custodian''s first duty is to check the map.
Process cleaning is done every day; the colored areas are those that get deep cleaning actions performed corresponding to that particular day.
Using the SAL, the custodian checks off the designated deep cleaning actions as they are performed.
In the morning, the custodial supervisor checks the map to see which area should have received deep cleaning.
He or she checks the SAL to see what items have been checked off and knows what was done and where it was done.
He or she doesn''t have to go through the entire building, but instead checks a few classrooms to see that the deep cleaning was performed, as well as confirming the process cleaning was performed.
"It''s a simple, beautiful way to clean a classroom," Morrison said. "My approach has always been to keep it simple, and when I err, I always err on the side of the custodian. It''s a respectful approach to cleaning."
When he first began to implement the system, there were some challenges.
"Change is hard for everyone. Getting people to buy into a new philosophy, a new approach, takes time and hard work," Morrison said. "We reduced our staff by over 12 percent, and we did it through attrition; not a single custodian lost their job. Process cleaning was developed by custodians, a system designed specifically around K-12 environments. It''s schools helping schools."
But, no one would be helping anyone without the technology.
Technology Breeds Innovation
"I am a 100 percent firm believer that we cannot do process cleaning without backpack technology. It''s an integral part of the system," Morrison said. "When we first started out, we were using uprights, and I had people tell me, ''There''s no way I''m putting a vacuum cleaner on my back and carrying it around for two hours; are you crazy?'' Well, after a week or so, I was told, ''If you try and take this backpack vacuum away from us, we''re going to riot,'' that''s how much and how fast they grew to like it."
Process cleaning has four technological cornerstones: Backpack vacuums, spray-and-vacuum systems, microfiber technology and chemical reduction.
"Since we''re cleaning for health, I want to minimize the chemicals that I leave when I''m done with my cleaning process," he said. "Nature''s cleaner is water, so if you''re using any chemicals, once a week you want to try and wipe that chemical off, take it off of everything so you can start fresh the following week."
The bane of the custodian is the restroom.
Differing philosophies, inadequate equipment and conflicting definitions of "clean" can often confound even the most dedicated professional.
Traditionally, to determine the time it takes to clean a restroom, you count the number of porcelain fixtures, Morrison said.
Allow two minutes per fixture and that''s the time it takes.
"With spray-and-vacuum technology, we pared that down to one minute per fixture, and we back it up with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing," Morrison said. "We not only clean 50 percent faster, we reduce, and can prove we reduce, the amount of germs in the restrooms, leaving them cleaner and better smelling."
In today''s economic realities, it''s also about the money.
Word has gotten around about WCSD''s program and other schools want to know how to do it.
Morrison consults for other districts with his district''s blessing.
"Eighty-seven percent of all expenditures for most school districts is spent on labor," he said. "To save labor, you have to adopt new technologies and new processes. Every great idea takes one second to visualize and 10 years to implement."
That''s where process cleaning is: Right here, right now.
Corey Morris is Washoe County School District''s (WCSD) supervisor of Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PCHS) training.