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It Takes a Village

Iredell-Statesville (N.C.) Schools

A chemist at local business Speedball Art Products helps students at Statesville High School with a printmaking process.

With an 80 percent positive community satisfaction rating and other districts calling to ask advice about its programs, Iredell-Statesville (N.C.) Schools is on the rise.

In 2005, the district passed a bond referendum for the first time since 1947. In 2008, it won a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. This year Superintendent Terry K. Holliday received a C. Jackson Grayson Distinguished Quality Pioneer Medal for his innovative leadership; he was also named the 2009 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year.

“I think school districts have to be more responsive to their customers,” says Holliday, who had been superintendent for the last seven years and who in July accepted the position of Kentucky’s education commissioner. “Parents have choices they didn’t have 20 years ago—charter schools, private schools, home schools. Public schools have to be customer focused and friendly.”

One of the ways Holliday helped his district become customer focused is by revamping the district’s Web site and with other communication efforts.

It’s a Two-Way Street

To overhaul the Web site, Holliday’s communications staff surveyed teachers, parents, students and community members to understand what information they sought and how they’d like it delivered. The resulting site has easy-to-find, up-to-date and accurate information on budget issues, events, the dress code, testing results and more. Average site traffic currently is 23,000 hits per week.

On Holliday’s blog, updated three times a week, he discusses everything from school performance to finances. “My staff and the entire community know what to expect in terms of budget issues, how to lobby, or anything else that’s relevant,” he says. The blog invites readers to respond, and Holliday gets up to 10 replies from each posting.

Another way Holliday encourages feedback is through a link to his e-mail address. “If people hear rumors, I’m able to wipe them out immediately.” The Web site’s complaint-management system provides tools to report concerns or complaints. Staff members address these concerns within 24 hours and can easily track response time and customer satisfaction.

Relationship Building 101

A few years ago Iredell-Statesville had no faith-based partnerships; today it has 62. The district has also gone from a handful of business partners to nearly 165. Area churches bring supplies and mentors to their neighborhood schools; businesses provide everything from speakers and tutors to financial support and internships.

When the Statesville High School art teacher decided to do a class on print making, Susie Wiberg—partnerships coordinator for the district—reached out to local business Speedball Art Products, which sent its chemist to teach the 90-minute class and bring all the necessary supplies and tools. “The kids learned an amazing technique from a professional,” says Wiberg. “He brought his art catalog and told the teacher to order whatever she needs.” The chemist witnessed the difficulties students had when using the products and was able to tweak them.

One notable outcome of the business partnerships is the three-year-old student leadership program, which lets high-performing 11th-graders spend one day each month learning about their community’s economic development, health care and arts. “Our goal is to get top students involved in community decision making,” says David W. Bradley, president of the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce. “Four years from now, we’ll see who comes back here to live, work, play and lead.”

Holliday agrees that the partnerships are mutually beneficial. “We’re a fairly low-funded school system. We would not meet the kids’ needs without our partners. What the community has done to help children is fabulous.”

Ellen Ullman is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.