Determine every day to learn something new; share what you've learned with others; and practice random acts of kindness. Take the high road in everything you do." These dreamy sentences may sound like they should be printed on a motivational poster, but they were actually part of a letter that appeared in the daily newspaper of the Association of School Business Officials' (ASBO) yearly conference last October. You may know ASBO as the organization that provides professional development and networking support for people involved with running the business side of schools. You may not know that its president this year is Melody Douglas, who, along with her ASBO duties (and being the author of this quote), also juggles being the chief financial officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Soldotna, Alaska.
Everyone in education juggles multiple responsibilities, but Douglas takes this work ethic to an entirely different level. Although her district is comprised of only 9,300 students, they are learning in 44 schools spread across 26,000 miles. Outreach for Douglas is complex, since she is dealing with so many miles, not to mention that the majority of her ASBO work takes place on the East Coast, making for full days of travel for even the shortest meetings.
Yet balancing lots of work and encouraging others to do so-and always with a smile-is how Douglas has risen, rung-by-rung, to the top. "When I came to school education, I was on the [financial] clerical side," she says. Since 1978, she's been part of the framework of Kenai's public schools, by moving from a fixed assets specialist to accounts payable, to general ledger, to chief accountant, and then, director of business, capping her achievement as the district's CFO since 2001. "I like helping people," she says.
The business of education: If Douglas' mathematical problem-solving and better-business skills have taught her anything, it's that running a school is more like running a business. "School business is a part of the education conversation," says Douglas. "If I do my job well, I can be sure we're [using] all resources and trying to get people to understand that infrastructure is what allows what happens in the classroom to happen."
The ASBO way: "In this profession there's no real proprietary information; we all have our colleagues doing things in different arenas," says Douglas. Much of her time includes managing ASBO's quarterly board meetings and monthly conference calls. Governance structure is discussed, as well as making sure that a colleague's good idea in Washington can help solve another colleague's problem in Arkansas.
Combating ASBO issues: Douglas works with the board and its 6,600 members to learn how to better address members' needs given a significant changing demographic of teachers. "We're trying to get young people to realize they need an association, an organization that provides support and fellowship across the various positions of school business administrators," she says. "For some younger teachers, they don't know what they don't know."
On doing both jobs: As with most ASBO board members, "we're all working multiple positions," says Douglas. "I absolutely could not do this if I didn't have the support of my superintendent and school board." It's about flexibility that allows her to do production-level CFO work, be told when things are due, and to accomplish work on her own time.
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.