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The board’s big rock of customer service

Halloween is not coming early this year, but some scary images have started to pop up at the main entrances and offices of Lawton Public Schools. Children have yet to run from the buildings screaming, but no one can deny the unsettling resemblance to Voldemort or one of the aliens from Close Encounters. 

But have no fear. It’s just a picture of me, your lowly superintendent. I will certainly receive phone calls and emails — not necessarily because of my ugly mug, but because I really do want to hear from people. The signs ask, “How are we doing?” They provide a QR code, my email, and my phone number, so I can hear from patrons about our board of education’s big rock of customer service. I not only want to hear when you have great service, but also when we could do better.

Lawton Public Schools may not be a traditional business, but we certainly have customers. As a student, I attended 15 schools before graduating, and I remember my first day in each of those schools. As parents and students, you can certainly relate. Every phone call, email, and visit send a clear message about our district, and no one ever forgets the first visit to enroll in a school. Parents, students, and community members obviously comprise our customer base, but according to our board of education, they are not our only customers. In a district this large, staff members can also feel like visitors or outsiders to an unfamiliar site or department. This means we have two areas of customer service: internal and external.

This is my sixth year in LPS, and we have some of the best customer service anywhere. Whenever you experience exceptional service, please let me know, so I can celebrate with our amazing staff. Occasionally, however, we fail to meet our customers’ needs, and I need to hear about that as well. Because our children are involved, schools can be very emotional places. Every person is passionate about their role in the child’s life, so sparks can easily fly. Most often, it is a simple miscommunication, but when this happens, we need an opportunity to follow-up afterwards to ensure that everyone’s needs have been resolved. I need to hear the good reports and the bad reports because we cannot get better if we do not know. In addition to the usual methods of communicating, we have added a “Contact the Superintendent” button to the front page of our website.

Very few issues arise in a school because someone has bad intentions. I personally experienced this recently in a meeting with a critical district partner. I thought I handled everything well, but the other parties left the meeting with an entirely different perception. I walked away feeling I had accomplished our goal, but they walked away with hurt feelings. Thankfully, one of them eventually spoke up, and I was ashamed to learn how they felt after our meeting. I now have a lot of work to do to restore trust as a result. I failed to focus on their needs, and I have no excuse for the outcome. I simply must do better.

I truly expect to hear more good reports than bad reports, because I know our staff. On the rare occasion that someone has an unpleasant experience, however, I will personally follow up to ensure that the matter has been resolved appropriately. The board has identified this as a big rock, and I don’t think anyone doubts they will hold me accountable. 

If the complaint is about my picture, however, I am not sure I can resolve that. Some things just cannot be fixed, short of surgery and hair implants. Just consider it my early contribution to Halloween.

Tom Deighan is the superintendent of Lawton Public Schools. For more of his articles, visit TomDeighan.com.

The Lawton Constitution

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