.Nameplate February 2013 Issue 
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The Rake Marks of Student




Remember the last time you visited a Disney amusement park? You probably spent your day enjoying the new attractions and revisiting old favorites. If you were the tour guide for a first-time visitor, I bet your smile muscles were as tired as your feet by the end of the day.

I know some things you didn’t think about during your Disney visit that contributed to making your trip so memorable. No wayward litter. Sweet-smelling, spotless restrooms. Not a single gum mark on walkways. Hedges trimmed with precision to look like Mickey.

You had the time of your life because Walt Disney knew that for his park to be the happiest place on earth, it first needed to be the cleanest place on earth.

Takeaway Value
During my time as a high school principal, I had the opportunity to attend a Disney school leaders training in Orlando, Fla., where we learned a few things about the company’s management mystique. As the story goes, Walt Disney was influenced growing up in the Midwest by the filth he found at most amusement parks and how the dirt and griminess distracted from the experience of the food, thrill rides and games.

During our behind-the-scenes field trip at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, it became clear that Walt’s understanding that our human senses rule the day translated into everyday reality, such as power washing every section of concrete in the park, parking lots included, every night. We learned about Disney’s off-site nursery with a duplicate of every flower, plant and tree found in the park.

I consider my three days at Disney University a major career turning point, and the takeaway questions continue to drive my superintendency: How can I make my school district more like a Disney park, and how do I convince others to join that Main Street parade?

Disney’s corporate focus on connecting cleanliness with guest attitudes and behavior has been the subject of several research studies bearing on school buildings. One study, examining elementary schools in Virginia, found that environmental variables like frequency of floor cleaning have an impact on student achievement.

Three Priorities
Such findings, in combination with Disney’s intuition, make a compelling argument that every dollar spent on cleaning and maintaining your schools is a dollar spent on raising student achievement. I buy into that view, especially at budget-planning time, when I leverage the needed resources for building maintenance and resist cuts to custodial staffing. My three Disney non-negotiable priorities follow.

•  CLASSROOM FLOORS AND WALLS. The first thing you look at when you enter a room is the floor, then the walls. Hotels spend thousands of dollars cleaning and updating their lobby because they know your first impression is priceless.

Although we might not replace carpet as often as a Las Vegas casino, we do make floor cleanliness a high priority. Our district has a 10-year classroom-carpet replacement schedule, and our maintenance department puts a full-court press on carpet cleaning and interior and exterior painting during the summer. Duct-tape carpet repairs drive me crazy, as members of our staff have discovered. In a few instances, teachers put down duct tape to trick me into an emergency replacement.

•  RESTROOMS. Restrooms are the window to the soul of the school. When making unannounced visits to schools, the men’s bathroom is my first visit. If the restroom looks clean, smells clean and appears free of graffiti, it is highly probable I don’t even need to inspect other areas of the building. If you have ever walked out of a restaurant before ordering because of the state of the restroom, you understand my point.

I budget to remodel and upgrade all student and staff restrooms on a 10-year cycle.

•  LANDSCAPING. Our district’s schools, like many in the Southwest, rely on outdoor walkways and have desert landscape, which creates different challenges than those faced by school leaders in other parts of the country. I want our schools to have astounding curb appeal from the perspective of cars driving by the baseball field to students walking to their next class. Schools in the East may have immaculately manicured lawns. I want ours to show fresh rake marks running parallel across the decomposed granite.

Like the patrons of Walt Disney amusement parks, students who walk through our gates deserve an exceptional learning experience — that means no worries or distractions because of slime, grime or dirt. If we expect students to rise to the expectations we hold, our schools ought to be uncommonly clean places.

Nic Clement is superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson, Ariz. E-mail: Nicholas.Clement@fwusd.org


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