Education as a business – part 2

>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!

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3 Responses to Education as a business – part 2

  1. >I’d say Tom Lane gets what other educators sometimes miss. Namely that there is more than one metaphor or image that informs their work. Some I have met would distain the idea that a school is also a business. But as you have noted it is. Others would find it objectionable that a school can and does have a brand – but it does.Insisting on only one way of viewing an enterprise or only one metaphor is a learning difficulty I call “hardening of the categories”Hooray for open-minded educators and leaders like Tom Lane.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >I would agree with the fact that the district is growing and financially stable, but that is more from a growth standard of the City of DesMoines, rather than a desire to live in Carlisle. My guess is that over 80% of the new members of the School district live on the SE side of Desmoines, NOT in Carlisle. While I don’t know the man you are speaking of, nor do I discount any of the wonderful things you said about him or the district, please don’t attribute the rapid growth of the school to anything more than Urban Sprawl. The same thing has happened in Waukee and SE polk, and it has nothing to do with the Schools. It is simply a building boom from a Metropolitan area which just happened to sprawl accross school district borders. Try not to get so caught up in the numbers and take a more educated look at the cause of the growth. The difference in these other 2 communities is that people are actually moving to those communities. Carlisle has rapidly outgrown its municipalities, and its business’. If the Community were the reason for the growth, there would be much more bulding going on THROUGHOUT the district,(say near and in Hartford, or Palmyra where the taxes and property prices are much lower)Instead,the growth is just on the north and south side of ArmyPost Rd,inside the city Limits of Des Moines. I do, however, think that a positive result of this growth WILL be the mythical community that you have outlined in your Blog. I can tell you are proud of your community, and hopeful that it will grow, and I commend you for that. Good luck, because as with the growth, will come many, many growing pains. Overtasked municipalities, not enough police/fire, soaring utility bills, and taxes to pay for it all. Plus a need for more business to support the community than 2 Caseys stores, a limited grocery store, and a car dealership.As you have outlined, Carlisle is not a small town anymore, self supporting, it is simply a Bedroom town for the Desmoines Metro.Be careful what you wish for?!?

  3. Mark true says:

    >Thanks for your comment. You proved my point so well. If you reread my post again carefully, you’ll see that I never gave the city of Carlisle any credit for the growth. In fact, I claim that the school will be the “most important element in a family’s decision to move to Carlisle.” I wrote about the school system and the attraction it’s been to new students and the financial righting of the ship under Dr. Lane and the school board’s direction. In fact, I believe the school is a strong reason why many of those students chose to live in that part of Des Moines. When I checked last, a little more than half of the district population was in Polk county, in both Des Moines and Carlisle school districts. So what made so many people move to the new houses on the Carlisle side of that line rather than the new houses on the Des Moines side of that line?I’m betting that it’s the Carlisle schools. In fact, people are fleeing Des Moines in droves and schools are being shut down left and right because of declining enrollment. Carlise, on the other hand, is one of the fastest growing districts in the state. I think you’ve confused my blog with someone else’s however, if you think I approve of where Carlisle, the city, is today. In fact, I agree that the city of Carlisle has all of the problems you mentioned, largely because we’ve outgrown the tax base. People ARE moving here, and will be filling up a new 200-home development in the coming years, but if we don’t enlarge our tax based with more businesses, we’ll all be paying higher taxes and the growth will stop. We have a large minority of tax payers who don’t want to see growth, they don’t want to see their town disappear, and don’t understand that inflation raises the prices for everything from asphalt on the streets, new police cars, new stop signs, lawn mowing in the parks, etc. If don’t grow, we die. Yet Tom Lane is doing the things necessary to draw more people into the district. If Carlile, the city, can get its act together, they’ll soon be moving into Warrne County and not Polk County.

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