>Tom Lane is a businessman in a school superintendent’s tie. He treats students and parents like customers, the school like a business. He listens and he leads. He owns his brand. Tom is superintendent of the Carlisle (Iowa) Community Schools and he actually refers to his students and their parents as patrons. In school board meetings I’ve attended and every one-on-one conversation I’ve ever had with the man, he has exhibited a real understanding that families have a choice, even of public schools. He realizes that he runs the most important business in Carlisle, Iowa, the bedroom community on the southeast corner of the Des Moines metro area. And he knows the school’s brand is one the most important, if not the most important, element in a family’s decision to move to Carlisle.
In just a few short years, he and the school board has lead his district from financial turmoil to the point where it’s one of the most financially sound districts in the state. And it’s preparing for a boom with an influx of students from a new development in town and in the eastern part of the school district.
He talks regularly with teachers, members of the community, students and their parents about the issues that affect them, like he did last summer in preparation for an upcoming bond issue vote for a new elementary school. The school board purposely timed the vote so that the new tax would take affect when the previous bond was retired and the tax bite would be almost painless. Then and now, he gathers his facts, engages the community in conversation using a robust and content-rich website; clear, concise articles in the local weekly newspaper; detailed articles in the district’s weekly newsletter and in candid community forums. He regularly attends city council meetings to answer questions that always arise when the issue of taxes and development come up. The school is part of Carlisle’s future, and Tom represents the school. He owns the brand.
He hires professional building administrators that share his business like approach and supports them with young, innovative teachers who connect with student-patrons and encourage parental involvement. They own the brand, too.
I’ve seen him and his team in action. I helped develop the school’s website, ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Carlisle school board seat, have worked with the district on developing a long-term recreational plan for the community and I interact with teachers and staff members on visits to the school. I’ve talked with his patrons on the sidelines of soccer games.
By most counts, Tom’s approach is working. Carlisle Schools are well-respected and growing rapidly. There are no “sales” figures available for this “business,” but enrollment is rapidly increasing and, I bet if you asked a few patrons, you’d find customer satisfaction is up, way up!