INSPIRING IDEAS: Planning for the unplanned: Lessons from the education sector—Part One

As a leader of an organization, there’s no shortage of challenges for you to address. And while it’s helpful to seek inspiration from similar entities, there’s also value in looking outside of your industry to see how others have embraced opportunities and tackled challenges. In this series, CORE Planning Strategies explores strategies organizations use to advance their operations and meet their missions. We hope it inspires you to get new ideas in unexpected places.

For this latest, two-part feature, we address how to plan for the unplanned, with insights from two of our education clients—Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) and Butler University. CORE has been working with IPS since its inception, and some of our staff have worked with the district for more than 20 years. At Butler University, CORE recently helped manage a roof replacement project on the new South Campus.

Keeping safety top of mind

Regardless of the organization you lead, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day activities and save exercises like scenario planning and safety drills for another day. However, in the educational environment, staying focused on safety keeps these activities top-of-mind.

“There are always things competing for our time, and we have to make sure we prioritize safety over everything,” said Scott Martin, chief operations officer at IPS. “Whether it’s life safety—meaning we have functional fire alarms and sprinklers and the facility is secure—or making sure the custodian has cleaned up and left the floors in a manner safe for people to walk on, it all ties together. It’s something you have to continually raise awareness of so other things don’t push it out of the way.”

Scott said IPS is diligent to make sure schools perform drills on a regular basis.

“That’s something we have re-energized around, and we’ve put processes in place so these activities don’t fall through the cracks,” he said. “People tend to tend to take safety for granted. There’s a tendency to think, ‘no one has gotten hurt for x amount of years,’ but the reality is, the time that has gone by doesn’t mean anything. So we take it very seriously and constantly remind staff and students that we need to do what we can to keep people safe.”

That safety also extends to weather-related issues, when districts are faced with the decision of closing school or delaying the start time, then communicating those decisions. According to Scott, the decisions depend on a variety of factors that vary district-to-district.

“My first district was 400 square miles, most of which was rural,” he said. “It would take all night to drive that district to make sure the roads were in good shape. When I started at IPS, I realized there are a lot of great resources for us in Indianapolis, but sometimes even they are fallible. We found that out a couple of years ago when we had ice and it took everyone by surprise. I took that as a lesson learned. Any time there’s an advisory of any manner, I’m up at 3 a.m. to make sure we are doing the right thing for our students and staff.”

“Scott is obsessed with NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] from October to April,” said Aleesia Johnson, IPS superintendent. “When we get inclement weather, those are the days and nights that Scott and I talk the most. In the morning, we have a call with the other superintendents from Marion County’s 11 districts. It’s helpful to hear what people are thinking and talking about. When we make the call to delay or cancel, it helps improve alignment across the districts.”

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Colin Moore from Butler University talks about how to take facility projects from deferred to done.

Miss our first “Inspiring Ideas” feature? Check it out here.

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