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SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / May 2006 / Superintendent's May Message

Superintendent's Message - May 2006

If You Would Only Run Schools More Like a Business!

"If you would only run schools more like a business..."  I've read or heard this sentiment many times from the media and members of the business community. The sentence pretty much ends there, but pick your own ending.  The implications are:

  • Students would learn more.
  • Schools would be more productive.
  • You could be so much better.
  • Schools could adapt more to the future.

As a superintendent, I am in the management end of schools and believe we can learn important lessons from business.  But if it is true that 8 out of 10 new businesses fail in the first five years, I don't think running schools like 80% of businesses makes much sense.  So what does running a school like a business mean?  Enron, World Com and Tyco should hardly be our models.

The Southern Oregon ESD administrative team has been reading the best-selling business book, Good to Great, this year to understand how to create a great organization.  The author, Jim Collins, and his team of researchers spent several years studying the factors that turn good businesses into great businesses.  Although their definition of greatness is stock market performance, which doesn't apply well to schools, the real crux of the book is the study of characteristics that make businesses great. 

In a follow-up monograph, Good to Great in the Social Sector, Collins states that "our work is not fundamentally about business, it is about what separates great from good."  It is important to me that we not just run like any business, but we run like a great business. To Jim Collins, business expert, "the whole purpose of the social sector is to meet social objectives, human need and national priorities that cannot be priced at a profit."  Collins and his team found that the most important elements of making an organization great are:

  • Humble leaders who listen and stay focused.
  • Hiring the right people.
  • Clarity of mission and passion.
  • Disciplined thought and disciplined action.

These characteristics apply to educational organizations as well as business organizations.

I believe schools and other non-profit organizations have a great deal to learn from successful businesses, but I also believe businesses can learn from schools. It is not just a one-way street.  In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum points out life's lessons from elementary school.  Businesses could learn from advice like:

  • Play fair.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt someone.
  • Live a balanced life—learn some, think some, draw and paint some, sing and dance some and work some every day.
  • It's best to hold hands and stick together.

The slogan "if we would only run schools more like a business" needs some qualification; we need to run schools more like great businesses.  Schools have plenty to learn from great businesses and businesses have plenty to learn from great schools.  We can all learn lessons from great organizations, great leaders, great teachers, great students, and great employees.  Southern Oregon ESD is working to become a great business.




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