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Posted on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor principals partner with local businesses to learn about customer service

By Danielle Arndt


Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations speaks with Ann Arbor Public Schools principals and their business mentors at a recent meeting of a new program designed to improve customer service at AAPS buildings.

Courtesy photo

This story has been updated.

Eight Ann Arbor school principals have voluntarily enrolled in a six-month program to improve how they approach customer service within their buildings.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) launched the Principal and Business Mentor Program in January after learning about a similar program in Toledo.

Wendy Correll, executive director of the AAPSEF, said the purpose of the mentor program is to strengthen the ties between the schools and the Ann Arbor business community, while helping school administrators enhance their daily management skills.

“There were a couple of topics that rose to the top when we talked to Eileen Kerner (of Toledo) in the summer of last year, and customer service was one of them,” Correll said. “It’s also something that I know is a strength of our business community’s. So why not tap into it?”

Annette Ferguson, business partnerships and volunteer coordinator for Ann Arbor Schools, said the program also exposes principals to various industries and careers that students might be interested in going into.

In a school climate discussion in February, Ann Arbor Board of Education members reviewed the results of a two-year climate survey. The results showed principal accessibility and approachability were areas of concern for parents, teachers and students who completed the survey.

Correll and Ferguson worked with Andy LaBarre of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber to recruit prospective business mentors. Each principal was assigned a business leader to partner with throughout the course of the program, so there are 16 people involved in total.

Correll hopes these mentor relationships will continue even after the program is finished.

A $1,000 grant from Johnson Controls was used to fund the program. Half the money was put toward supplying food, beverages and shared reading materials. The remaining $500 will be awarded to one principal on June 19 at the district's retirement and awards banquet.

Each principal will submit a customer service plan for a shot at the $500. The plan will be treated like a grant proposal and the foundation will select the winner. The money will allow the winning principal to implement the customer service plan at his or her school.

Correll said the customer service plans could include anything from bringing in a facilitator to create a dialogue with school staff, signage to better guide visitors through the building or supplies to redress the main office to increase functionality.

The group has met on three occasions, once per month. The initial meeting introduced the principals to their respective mentors.

In between monthly sessions, participants visit one another’s workplaces as “homework” that continues the conversations, Correll said.

Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations hosted one of the sessions and led the principals on a tour of the company.

Correll said Sheridan talked about the book he is writing — titled “Joy Inc.” — and thinking outside the box to meet customers’ needs. At an earlier session, participants brainstormed about who in a school environment should be considered a customer. Teachers and other staff made the list, with principals admitting that school employees are often not thought of as customers because the focus is on making parents and students happy.

Ferguson said Sheridan described how Menlo employees rotate projects every week to keep creativity flowing and to stay satisfied and energized at work. Correll also told how Menlo set up a small nursery at the office to satisfy a new mom who was very valuable to Menlo’s team.

“What worked for Menlo may not always work at the schools but it was an opportunity for principals to think about what components and themes they could incorporate into customer service at their buildings,” Correll said. "The whole point is to generate ideas and dialogue about what others do in certain situations at their workplaces."

Principals today must be knowledgeable in a variety of areas, she added, citing human resources, strategic planning, change management and money management as just a few examples.

The principals that volunteered to participate in the initial mentor program were Michelle Pogliano of the Preschool and Family Center, Roberta Heyward at Bryant Elementary, Bill Harris at Eberwhite, Monica Harrold at Northside, Che Carter at Pattengill, David DeYoung at Wines, Ed Broom at Scarlett Middle School and Sheila Brown at Ann Arbor Technological High School.

Ferguson said in general across the state, teachers feel like they are doing more with less as funding and programs are being cut.

"Job satisfaction is being impacted," she said.

Both Ferguson and Correll said they hope the business-principal mentor program will return in the fall and continue to grow. Next year's topic likely will be determined by feedback from participants, Correll said.

"Obviously we are restricted by funding and interest on the part of principals, but we saw a lot of enthusiasm from those we approached this year," Correll said.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

"Ann Arbor Board of Education members reviewed the results of a two-year climate survey. The results showed principal accessibility and approachability were areas of concern for parents, teachers and students who completed the survey." So let's send them to businesses to figure this out, not to the parents, teachers and students. Just keep ignoring them. Brilliant.

Ned Racine

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.

This is a fantastic idea! This is the type of organic, transparent and far-thinking paradigm that will foster unprecedented integration of thriving outcome patterns. The synergy between cross-shifting dynamics and sustainable metrics will facilitate the needed deliverables in our vertically integrated eduactional system. We can leverage and drill-down to improve highly effective communications. We should consider adding futuring training modules to this process.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:26 a.m.


Jeff Gaynor

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Best comment I've seen here in a long while - and particularly appropriate for this article. I'm still laughing; this made my day!


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

Ned: I know you are being facetious. LOL


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

The Business of Imparting Education: I appreciate the view of A2WorkinMom and her concern mainly involves the Art of interpersonal relationships and not the problem of Learning and Teaching. In my view, these problems of relationships are appearing due to a lack of understanding of the primary mission which is the business of imparting education. If the School District, the administrators, the principals, the teachers and other allied staff and employees join hands to achieve their primary mission; children, parents, and other volunteer and support teams like PTSO can play a meaningful role to accomplish that primary mission. The problem with interpersonal relationship skills is indicative of the problem of communication skills. If the educators lack communication skills, how could they succeed in imparting education? Instead of a theatrical show of Public Relations, I may suggest that the Principals must get back to the business of imparting Education using meaningful and effective Communication.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

They are good at working with data. I wish I had a good answer to your question - "if the educators lack communication skills, how could they succeed in imparting education?" But I don't. My general experience has been very positive with teachers and many administrators. But I find the newer administrators lack these communication skills.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

@Bhava - maybe you are right and "customer" is the wrong word to use. But administrators at the schools where my children spend 8-9 hours a day need to be able to communicate with parents (and children) in a professional, informative, respectful manner. I WANT to volunteer at the school and/or with school activities where my children are involved. Statistics show that there is a positive correlation between the number of times a parent steps into a school and a child's success. I volunteer when asked, work hard with parents, teachers and administrators alike. I do not barge in unannounced or desire to interfere or be present during inappropriate class time. I donate money to PTO, usually vote yes on millages and truly enjoy helping when and where I can. The principal has a position that, besides the individual child's teacher, is the primary contact that parents have with the schools. The environment at our school was always welcoming, but then a new principal came in and the environment has totally changed - volunteers are even more difficult to find because parents do not feel welcome. A customer service seminar where principal's can learn to listen, show empathy (even if you don't feel it), and work to find a reasonable solution is a no brainer to me.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

East and West - What sets us apart in Learning and Creative Writing? The term 'customer' is very vague, imprecise, and does not define the nature of dealing or interaction between a person and the establishment he/she visits. In common usage, a customer is thought to be a person who buys or patronizes an establishment on a regular basis. A customer may include any person with whom one has dealings. The Principal, the teachers, the students, the parents, and other affiliated persons who regularly visit a School Building are not "PATRONS" of that Institution or Establishment. None of them meet the criteria that could be applied to persons who could be defined as "CUSTOMERS". All of these above mentioned persons could be called customers or patrons if they visit a commercial establishment, a hospital, a museum, a movie theater, or a Park/Recreational facility. To some extent, people visiting a temple or a place of worship could be viewed as patrons and customers. We need to reflect upon the nature of dealing between the 'visitor' and the 'establishment'. People attend a School which is defined as a Place or institution for Teaching and Learning. Teaching is not about buying and selling Knowledge. Learning is not about patronizing a School Building or Institution. Learning involves self-application to acquire information, to process information, to retain information, and to apply information to solve problems and to perform tasks. Learning gives the ability to think for oneself in matters that pertain to that area of Learning. I would be glad to hear from any of these participants and kindly tell me the meaning of this word 'customer' and the nature of their dealings with persons called 'customers' in this news story.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

This Business about public education is really getting out of hand. Now we got principals attending a special seminar on customer other words how to relate to the people you serve. It seems to me that when a principal is placed in a school setting, there should be certain standards that are already in place that justifies that person being a principal. All this "extra" training, in-service only takes away from their primary role which is the education of our children. The more I learn about the Asian culture and their approach to education, the more impressed I am with their method. They view education first and foremost as important to their place in the world and commit themselves to seeing that their kids perform. To me, that's the bottom line. All this other stuff such as seminars for principals is nothing but flufff. That's why charters are beginning to make a urge surge in this state and across the nation.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

How ironic- I read this after talking to Saline Schools today about the same issue. Saline Schools has the WORST website in the world. Try putting money in your childs lunch account online. The layout is so poor you feel like your in a maze. On the same note, I dropped the child off today at Heritage and had to park way away from the building. At any private company the employees are required to park on the lot fringes leaving lots of room for "Customers"

Danielle Arndt

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

The story has been updated to correct the name of the principal participating in the program from Scarlett. The quote at the end about doing more with less also has been corrected. Thanks to those who pointed out the typo.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

I agree that it is wonderful that administrative customer service is being addressed in the district! However, the principals volunteered and there are a few that should be mandated to particpate. Perhaps this money could have been better spent providing training for all, without the food and the $500 bonus prize for one.

Tony Livingston

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

This is fantastic. Unfortunately I don't see the principal of my kids' AAPS High School there. Parents have so many negative experiences with administrators. There is a lot of bad blood because of the hostile way we are treated. It is great that there is at least some attempt to address it.


Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

This story was originally a press release from the school district that was emailed earlier this week. It is a P.R. effort by the district to show that the schools care about its customers. But even if they care, are they delivering the service to customers that taxpayer dollars fund? Is there data available to show how many customers the district has lost in the past five years compared to the last 10, 15, etc? Are there exit interviews when families choose to leave the district with students in 3rd, 6th or 9th grade? There are private and charter schools in Washtenaw county who probably have former public school customers there who could share the reasons why they left, what factors were specific to their kids and what factors were due to the customer service in the public schools. A measure of customer satisfaction is return business. Similarly, what about staff/teacher satisfication? When teachers leave a building, were they unhappy with a principal or the school in general? Principals who have better relationships with their teaching staff are usually the ones who have better rapport with parents. It's usually a bad sign in a building when teachers say nothing negative about a principal but say nothing positive either. Are there exit interviews for teachers?