I know it’s an annoying cliché, but it’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Sure, you can do your best to gain someone’s trust after you have made a mistake, but isn’t it a lot easier to get it right the first time? School districts have to make an exceptional first impression so that parents and students feel confident about the quality and leadership of their schools. I can still remember my first day in the 1st grade. At the end of the day my teacher put me on the wrong bus home, because the school had the name of my street spelled incorrectly. You can bet that left a lasting impression on my parents and me to this day!
As my story exemplifies, the beginning of the school year is when parents are the most engaged and paying the most attention to their child’s school events. For parents with young children just entering school, this is when they first see the district in action, and they expect their child’s transition from home to school to be flawless. Buses should be on time, schools should be clean and safe following summer renovations, and textbooks should be in adequate supply.
If all goes according to plan, then parents feel reassured about their school’s leadership. If, however, any one of these things (or a number of others) goes wrong, it will be an uphill battle for the superintendent to try and convince parents that the district can make things right.
If your district isn’t measuring these issues, problems will slip through the cracks, making it impossible to learn from previous mistakes. Try an Opening of the Schools survey. Survey each school’s principal about which operational areas the district flunked this year, and figure out what you can do to improve. Then conduct the survey again next year and track district progress. Consider it an exercise in continuous improvement — and use it to make a good first impression on next year’s parents.