Board poised to chart new course

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Friday, January 11, 2008
— The Janesville School Board has its share of disagreements and even a snarly retort from time to time.

But normally they get along very well and often see eye to eye.

Thursday night was different. Board members who sat down to talk to a consultant were positively glowing. Smiles seemed contagious.

Bill Sodemann raised both his arms and bowed jocularly at the consultant.

Tim Cullen, known as a tough politician and businessman who has seen consultants come and go, was gushing.

"It's just enormous. I don't think it can be overstated just how much this means," Cullen said.

Cullen, Sodemann and other board members were happy because the consultant was bringing them hope for a better school district.

And to make things all the sweeter, consultant Quint Studer is picking up the tab for his services and those of his company.

Studer already has supplied thousands of dollars worth of services, and he's promising to keep on doing it.

Studer has a method that is said to make good organizations better and great organizations excellent.

The district seems poised to embark on the first phase, which involves what's likely its first-ever survey of parents, students, teachers and other staff. They'll be asked how happy they are with how the schools operate and what things could make it better.

Sodemann, who has been pushing the district to adopt a survey-the-customers model for some time, seemed overjoyed at the prospect.

Studer is sending a three-person team to get the surveying and follow-up off the ground, probably sometime in the next two months, Superintendent Tom Evert said.

One team member is an expert in devising surveys and gauging the responses. Once the data is in, the district's leaders will know exactly where their weaknesses are as well as where they excel, Studer said.

The surveys will find which administrators are doing a great job and which ones need help, Studer promised.

Then, the team and a district steering committee will devise a plan, setting standards of performance and choosing Studer techniques to address the weaknesses.

Studer's method calls for objectively evaluating performance, not shying away from exposing faults and never missing an opportunity to praise a job well done.

Studer said results would include happier employees. Research has shown that happier employees do better work, he said.

Research also has shown that the most important factor in employees' job satisfaction is their immediate supervisors, Studer said, so principals will be a key group to analyze, praise and improve.

Studer spoke to a group of 12 district leadersóincluding union leadersólast month at his company's headquarters in Pensacola, Fla. He spoke to about 90 more staff members at the Pontiac Convention Center on Thursday.

Then he and the board got together Thursday night.

"You've made us all think that our school district is going to be the greatest thing that ever walked the face of the earth," school board President Debra Kolste told Studer.

"It can be," Studer responded.

It might not be a pretty process, especially in the first year or two, as weaknesses are revealed, but in the end, it's a powerful way to improve things, Studer said.

Cullen also was effusive in his praise of Evert for taking a chance, so late in his career, to bring Studer in and expose problems in an organization he has led for 12 years.

It's rare to see a public servant take such a chance, Cullen said. "Tom is making a great gift to the school district."

The process likely will go to a vote of the school board this month or next, but the board's endorsement seems foreordained.

Board members Todd Bailey, Lori Stottler and Dennis Vechinsky were not at Thursday night's session, but Evert said he had heard of no red flags raised by any board member.

If all goes as planned, the process should be well under way this spring, Evert said after the meeting.

The first groups to be evaluated: Evert and his administrative team.


Quint Studer once taught in the Janesville school system. He later was an executive for Mercy Health System. He now runs his own consulting company, The Studer Group, which has earned high praise from some of the top health-care organizations in the country for making them better. Studer lives in Florida but still has family in Janesville.

Janesville schools Superintendent Tom Evert said Studer's methods have been applied piecemeal in several schools, but as far as he knows, the effort in Janesville will be the first time it's been tried, top-to-bottom, in an entire school district.

Last updated: 2:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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