Maintenance & Operations

An Important and Enormous Responsibility

Another school year is upon us. School divisions across the country have spent their summer completing as many maintenance and capital improvement projects as funding would allow. School facility managers have an enormous responsibility of assuring that schools are ready for teachers, students and the community. Satisfactory school buildings are essential to the morale of teachers and students. Studies have shown that suitable classrooms may improve academic achievement.

School facility managers have developed best practices to ensure each department is equipped to maintain school buildings at their most optimal level. Having collaboratively developed a clear mission statement will set the groundwork for a systematic approach in keeping the departments focused on student achievement. Each department should establish clear and measurable performance goals that will keep the overall mission of the organization as a priority throughout the school year. It is important that the goals are monitored and are reviewed throughout the course of the year to ensure success.

Ongoing communication at every level will help to avoid situations that detract from the overall mission of the organization. Each individual must be accountable for their role, be flexible, and willing to support whatever is necessary to get the job done. In order to build relationships that will help to garner optimal performance from your staff, school facility managers must provide consistency in applying work rules and division policies that create a respectful and fair work environment for all employees.

Teacher morale and community expectation can be affected when your schools physically appear to be in a state of disrepair. Curb appeal is a powerful indicator to the community that your school division is placing a premium on its appearance. The exterior of the school should be a welcoming setting for students, staff and visitors. One never gets a second chance at making a first impression.

The importance of schools in a community can translate into new families that purchase homes within a school district and maintain those existing families that have their student transition from elementary through high school. A negative message to perspective clients is sent if the landscaping of the property is not maintained, grass is not cut, hedges not trimmed and flower beds are not managed.

The interior aesthetics also sends a powerful message. For example, when lighting in the hallways and classrooms is sub-par, thermal comfort is inadequate and overall cleanliness of the physical plant is poor, then these may be associated with key indicators as to how the facility is managed and cared for, which may impact a visitor’s perception of the school.

How promptly a technician can respond to and resolve an issue is imperative. Suitable response times can help establish a positive relationship and build confidence with school staff in the maintenance department’s ability to resolve issues. Feedback from foremen and school administrators to technicians, with regard to completed projects, can provide positive reinforcement and ensure that the work completed fulfilled the repair and or replacement requested.

In addition, an incentive program should be implemented for technicians for meeting their performance goals. The incentives can be structured in various ways in order to recognize and reward staff for their efforts. In-house luncheons and staff recognition programs are simple and affordable ways to say thank you for a job well done. This raises the overall morale of the technicians, and shows them that the School Plants administration values and acknowledges all of their hard work in the schools.

The performance goals and departmental objectives that are set at the beginning of the school year by School Plant administrators are essential in creating expectations within the organization. It truly takes a collaborative effort of all support staff to create a positive learning environment for all students. School Facility, Safety and Security, Custodial, Transportation, Health Services, and Food Services staff all plays a valuable role in supporting the success of students throughout every school division.

Schools that are well maintained may have higher achievement scores, less discipline issues and higher morale than schools that are not. Current research has shown that schools that are deemed satisfactory in school building condition often achieve three to five percent higher on standardized tests compared to schools that are not satisfactory in building condition. Communicating and promoting student success through properly maintained buildings should be the focus of every school plant administrator.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

John A. Bailey, Ph.D. is the director of School Plants for Chesapeake Public Schools and a National School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Virginia, and a Virginia School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Region II, in Virginia.

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