Education Opinion

Service with a Smile

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — October 16, 2007 3 min read
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Don’t you hate it when you have to call an office in the State Department of Education? There are so many bureaucrats in the building that as you get transferred from one person to another so many times, you forget why you called. Usually, you can’t get an answer or the person you need to talk to is unavailable, out to lunch, in a meeting, or on vacation until the next week. This weekend, I had to contact the Louisiana State Department of Education on a serious matter. I was so sure I’d get the runaround that instead of making a telephone call Friday evening, when I discovered the problem, I decided to send an email at a quarter to ten Sunday night. Email provided the promise of less confrontation and the protection of electronic communication. It was a cowardly act; I know.

I wanted to blame someone for missing a due date for the LEAP Remediation Fund Application. However, my philosophy for whenever things go wrong is to look at myself first and decide what else I could have done to make things better. I had received most of the information that would be necessary to complete the grant from the principal and the program coordinators earlier in the week. My goal is to write or direct the writing of all of the grants and applications this year to set a standard of excellence and create models for future years. It’s the kind of work I really enjoy. I wrote these things for years when I was a principal. I edited and approved lots of them when I was an Area Superintendent. How hard can it be? But, I also wanted the school’s administrators to write the application because they need the growth experience. Somewhere in between these competing ideas I/we dropped the ball and missed the due date. I hate when that happens.

I sent a brief email to Sharon Compton and copied Susan McCurley, Education Program Consultants from the Louisiana Department of Education’s Division of Standards, Assessments and Accountability. My request for an extension and apology for our lateness included several reasons why we were not on time with the application including missing student records. As a new school, we don’t have student records; these have to be requested from the schools our students attended last year. The student body of 480 students came from more than 114 schools around the city, throughout the state, and across the country, compliments of a Katrina Diaspora. My final plea read, “Kindly let me know if it (the application) will be accepted a few days after the clearly stated deadline. I apologize for any extra effort that an extension may create, but we would appreciate consideration of our start-up status.” I know how to be nice when I need a favor.

To my delight and surprise, I received a response to my email from Susan early this morning before I had my first cup of café au lait. Even more surprising, she called me on the telephone five minutes later. We had the best conversation about the application! She let me know that the deadline had already been extended. Our school’s contact information was missing which is why we hadn’t been updated. She took the contact information and even looked up answers to several nagging questions that I had not had time to research. We talked for quite a while and she gave me the names of several colleagues (Sharon and Jeanette) who are reported to be as nice and helpful as she was. At the end of the conversation, she encouraged me to call whenever I had questions and to not waste time stressing over things when help was as close as the telephone or computer. Who’d a thunk it? Every Monday should start like this one. Thanks Susan.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.