The K–12 public education system has been nationally scrutinized on many levels for many years. Tax-paying citizens are often asked to pay more of their hard-earned money to help cover the deficit in the public education budget; teachers face layoffs; and programs regularly face budget cuts. On top of it all, school safety is now a hot topic with recent school shooting events attracting the focus of the communities and school administration.
Now, this isn’t the case with every school district across the country, but holistically, schools fight an uphill battle to balance their budgets while providing a safe environment and quality programming. Among the planning and negotiations, an area that is often overlooked is the maintenance and operations of K–12 public school facilities.
As we move further ahead in the 21st century, many factors play into what is most important to the local communities. Quick access to information through social media and other media sources provide news at a fast pace that relates to the viewers’ pain points. When devastation hits and it makes headlines, it gains the attention of the viewers throughout the nation. Among all the chaos and tragedy we’ve seen our children face this past year alone, it’s hard to draw focus to the more simple and easily preventable problems that also have an impact on our children’s health and safety, such as illness.
Health and Safety by the Numbers
Nearly 22 million school days are lost each year to the common cold and 38 million are lost to the flu. Additionally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 14, 2018, “172 influenza-associated pediatric deaths [had] been reported for the 2017–2018 season.”
Since the average child spends between 900–1,000 hours inside of the public-school system per year, it’s almost impossible to avoid illness. However, the cleanliness of the physical buildings where our children spend much of their time can help to decrease these numbers.
According to a 2016 study by the 21st Century School Fund Inc., K–12 school districts spend a combined average of US$49 billion per year on maintenance and operations. Ten percent of the overall school budget typically goes toward maintenance and operations, as well. However, as school districts invest money into new technology and redesigns of classrooms, the needs for the maintenance and operations of the physical building change.
To accommodate for these changes, management needs to identify the disruption to the maintenance and operations processes early on. This will allow time to plan for changes in scheduling, staffing, and possibly the implementation of new technology for cleaning of the facility.
As Facilities Change, So Must We
The public-school system has a high amount of traffic and with a limited custodial staff, it becomes a daunting task to stay on top of cleaning. Custodial technicians are typically pulled in multiple directions for tasks like event setup and takedown, after-hours security, and helping with emergency situations. As a result, the consistent question that we hear is the following: “How do we maintain a high level of quality if our staff is being reduced and our current team is pulled in other directions?” The answer: We must adapt.
The only constant in the world is change. As K–12 school districts undergo change, maintenance and operations departments must follow suit. As an industry, we must work together to increase the national and local spending budget on maintenance and operations, while simultaneously leveraging current budgets to help students achieve a higher level of success.
Let’s map out a basic change management process that you can apply to your own cleaning and maintenance operation:
Step No. 1: Assess Your Operation
First, execute an assessment of your operation that includes, but is not limited to, financials, quality, staffing, and inventory levels. During this process, take your findings and benchmark them against the rest of the industry. Create an unbiased, transparent, and complete report. During this time, acquire a team that will help you implement your change.
Step No. 2: Educate Your Organization’s Community
Second, educate your community on the importance of cleaning for health. Many organizations such as ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, have data and statistics on the cleanliness of K–12 educational facilities and how cleaning could help to improve those numbers. Connect with your industry-specific resources to gather this information to share with parents and administrators. Explain why it is crucial for the maintenance and operations team to operate at an optimal level.
It is imperative during a change management initiative to include specific and influential stakeholders who will help drive the change around them. Once you begin educating the local community and stakeholders, utilize the data from your cleanliness audit to inform administration on your recommendations.
Step No. 3: Create an Action Plan
Third, create a series of tasks, checklists, and measurement tactics for the change. During this time, it is extremely important to focus on standardizing your department with industry best practices. Utilizing industry-recognized programs will help you get started, and partnering with other like-minded organizations while coaching others through this change will benefit your efforts. Reach out to industry experts who can guide you and help alleviate some of the cloudiness in these changing times.
Step No. 4: Train Your Team
This falls in line with the previous point, but the key to unlocking change in your management and operation structure is making sure your current staff is fully trained and certified on the new change taking place in addition to the standards you wish to implement.
Staff may be more receptive to training that is served from an independent organization or supplier when school is out of session. Throughout the school year, have your team participate in reoccurring training on different topics that are prescheduled and surround any change taking place. Include specific team members who are knowledgeable in that specific area to help teach the information. This will motivate your staff members and encourage them to create a stronger team environment.
Step No. 5: Remember to Reinforce
Last, the change doesn’t stop after you adjust your structure, train your team, or benchmark your process. The only way a proper change management program can succeed is with strong leaders who provide the vision for their team. Within the change management program, the final section is all about reinforcement and monitoring. Often, change occurs, and this final stage is forgotten or left behind. Ongoing metrics will be key to understanding how well the change is succeeding.
Time to Get Started
Now that we have gone through a very basic change process, it’s time to put it to work. Put a goal together that will make a large impact on changing the view of maintenance and operations for your community. How will you eliminate some of your pain points, such as low staff, reduced budget, reduction in quality, newer-modeled facilities, and increased pressure to maintain the built environment?
Change starts now; change starts with you. You have the opportunity to make a difference for your community.