Thursday, June 14, 2012

Importance of Pursuing and Achieving Excellence


Good is the enemy of great. This sentence leads off one of the most iconic books on continuous improvement ever written—Good to Great by Jim Collins. But what is the difference between good and great? How do you measure progress? How do you determine growth? How do you detect impact? How do you quantify excellence? These questions are not as easy to answer as some may think. Yet, they are vitally important to all organizations and individuals that have a desire to be better today than they were yesterday, and better tomorrow than they are today.

Last year, Oconee County Schools facilitated the education of nearly 6500 students, in 10 different schools, that rode 83 school buses, which traveled over 700,000 miles. Our cafeteria workers served over 4000 lunches daily to nearly 3000 elementary students and over 3500 middle and high school students. Our certified staff of teachers, counselors, and administrators, which total 506 individuals, and our non-certified staff of bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, paraprofessionals, clerical staff and maintenance personnel, which are an additional 516 individuals, worked each day to help our students succeed. These 1000 people are the heartbeat of our organization and they are the beginning of its excellence and the answer to its continuous improvement—along with you, our community. Obviously, the other vital ingredient to excellence is our 6500 outstanding students.

But why do I share these numbers? What meaning do they have? Why should you continue reading? I hope you are still reading…

These numbers are important because they help us better understand the scope of our organization, the many hands that have an impact on the daily and long-term success of our students, and the fact that leadership, focus, and a desire to get better in each area of our organization will have an impact. If a student does not arrive to school on time, is hungry, and is forced to learn in unsanitary facilities, then his ability to focus on English or math will be limited at best. Thus, each department has a role, each individual has a purpose, and we must all recognize and value the work of those around us if we are to take Oconee County Schools from a really, really good system to an elite system that we can proudly call great!

While today marks only my second full week of service in our outstanding system and residency in our wonderful community, I have little doubt that we are up to the challenge. In February, we will receive a visit from individuals representing the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for our five-year accreditation review. Their job will be to review how our system is doing, determine our areas of strength, and recommend areas of improvement and enhanced focus. We look forward to their visit; but please know that we are interested in that feedback from you, our customers, today.

Is there an individual or department that has served your student that you want to tell us about? Did they meet or exceed your expectations? Are they a great example of the customer-oriented excellence we seek? If so, please share by emailing me at jbranch@oconeeschools.org. I look forward to your ideas, your input, and your stories.