Business Practices

Key to Success

Waukee Community School District is one of the fastest-growing school districts in Iowa; we add about 500 students per year and build one new elementary school building every two years.

Eric Rose, the chief operating officer, and I oversee the human resources, business services, community education, childcare, nutrition, technology, custodial, and operations staffs — departments that we believe provide the foundation for the district. If we aren’t doing a quality job, the teachers cannot provide the students with a quality education.

To keep quality staff members and help them grow, we have to provide quality professional development. Three years ago, Eric and I decided to do just that.

Starting at the Top

We began with our directors. Eric and I hold monthly director meetings during which we all share what is happening in our departments and help one another solve issues. This process builds trust among the staff and helps us resolve issues quickly.

I share relevant articles and topics of interest with the group as I find them. The directors read the material, and then we discuss how we can apply the information. The directors also participate in meetings of the full administrative team of principals twice a year. That is a way for the staff to make connections and build relationships at all levels.

Empowering Leadership

Next, we charged the directors with providing professional development to their staffs. At the beginning of each school year, every department holds a staff meeting where the director shares a PowerPoint presentation that was created during the summer retreat. The presentation has common slides for all employees; each director adds slides that are particular to his or her department. Directors also hold monthly staff meetings to inform their staffs about what is happening in the district and to share any other relevant information.

An outside consultant helps us train all of our new supervisors. The training includes a profile assessment of their skills and instruction about conflict resolution, discipline and provision of effective employee feedback and evaluations. The consultant then works with Eric and me to ensure that we understand the support we need to provide new supervisors.

Being Specific

Professional development varies by department because of the nature of the work and the influence of federal and state regulations. In the nutrition department, for example, professional development has focused on proper lifting, bending and safe foodhandling methods with the general workers.

We also work to create a sense of team. When the nutrition department employees indicated that they didn’t feel like a team and were uncomfortable with the new foods they had to prepare the first weeks of school, we provided.

In operations, the director meets with his craft and trades staff once a month. After a five-minute safety talk, which he documents for training purposes, the employees can discuss current projects.

I lead a monthly professional learning community with all of the building secretaries. We did a book study together and talked about topics of their choosing, building sessions around their needs. Time is set aside during every meeting for them to share.

I replicated this professional learning community with the business office staff. We meet once a month after the board meeting to bring everyone up to speed, give them time to ask questions, and see whether anyone needs help with projects.

Keys to Success

How does a school business official cultivate an environment of trust, collaboration and accountability?

  • Transparency: Share the same information that you share with the board with the administrators, directors, and business office staff.
  • Collaboration: Bring department directors together so they can learn, share, and help one another create a better work environment.
  • Accountability: Provide time for employees to hear what is going on in the district and give them time to ask questions so they feel more connected to the district’s work.
  • Communication: Ensure that information is timely, accurate, and delivered in multiple ways.

When you invest in the employees, they see that you value them and that you support them in their role. We are a school district, therefore a learning organization. Everyone should be a lifelong learner.


— This article is excerpted from the October 2017 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International. www.asbointl.org.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Lora Appenzeller Miller is chief financial officer for Waukee Community Schools, Waukee, Ia. She can be reached at lappenzellermiller@waukeeschools.org.

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