Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blueberry Story

Our Superintendent sent this to us this afternoon.


A Businessman Learns a Lesson

by Jamie Robert Vollmer

"If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I

wouldn't be in business very long!" I stood before an auditorium filled

with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute.. My

speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of in-service.

Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could

cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public

schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous

in the middle 1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the

"Best Ice Cream in America." I was convinced of two things.

First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting

and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step

with the needs of our emerging "knowledge society."

Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted

change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and

shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly.

They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero

defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was

perfectly balanced equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared polite,

pleasant - she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school

English teacher who had been waiting to unload. She began quietly, "We

are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream."

I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, Ma'am."

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"

"Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.

"Premium ingredients?" she inquired.

"Super-premium! Nothing but triple A." I was on a roll.

I never saw the next line coming. "Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning

forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, "when you are standing

on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries

arrive, what do you do?"

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I was dead

meat, but I wasn't going to lie. "I send them back."

"That's right!" she barked, "and we can never send back our

blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional,

abused, frightened confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take

them all: GT, ADHD, ADD, SLD, EI, MMR, OHI, TBI, DD, Autistic, junior

rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, etc.

We take them all! Everyone!

And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's a school!"

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides,

custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah!

Blueberries! Blueberries!"

And so began my long transformation.

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a

school is not a business.

Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they

are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue

stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate,

competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a

post-industrial society.

But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with

the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the

surrounding community.

For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the

attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and

therefore, education means more than changing our schools, it means

changing America

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