Washington Local Schools just might be the biggest “family business” around.
OK, so maybe it’s not a family business in the traditional sense.
But Superintendent Patrick Hickey and his leadership team do their best to make it seem like a family.
And whatever they are doing is working. The school system, with almost 900 employees, was chosen the Top Workplace among large employers in the Toledo area.
The fact that 25 percent of the district’s 900 employees are alumni of Washington Local’s Whitmer High School helps make it seem like a family. So does the fact that 66 percent of the employees live in the district.
Mr. Hickey says having so many homegrown employees means they are already imprinted with the district’s DNA — they understand the district, the people, and the pride.
Cindy Perry is an example. She graduated from Whitmer. Her children went to Washington Local Schools, and her grandchildren are students. Ms. Perry is a district custodian and president of the district's Ohio Association of Public School Employees.
“I’m proud to be part of the family,” she said. “We all work together as a team to make it happen.”
Families aren’t without their problems, of course.
But whether a family member does something good or needs help with a personal or family situation, the Washington Local family is there to “celebrate or support them,” says Christopher Hodnicki, a Whitmer teacher and the president of the Teachers Association of Washington Local Schools.
“There’s a positive culture, from the board and the administration down to staff members,” Mr. Hodnicki said.
Like many organizations, the district has a list of core values and a mission statement, but Mr. Hickey says they aren’t just words. Adminstrators, teachers, support staff — even one of the 6,900 students — will call somebody out if he or she seems to be straying from those values.
That includes the portion of the mission statement that says district employees will “unconditionally love all kids and families.”
More traditional businesses can point to profits or stock prices as measures of success. A school district’s success is measured differently — test scores, of course, but also the quality of its students in the arts, athletics, and other endeavors.
It hasn’t been easy. Poverty in the district has risen substantially in the last decade. Many of the students’ parents don’t have college educations.
But the district’s performance index score — a cumulative average of scores for all grades from the state's report card — has been rising steadily.
Mr. Hickey says another sign of the district's success is that it continues to get crucial support from voters.
“We cannot exist, provide what we do, and excel without the steadfast support of this community. They have passed four new money levies in a row in a state where 80 percent of new money levies fail. ... That support leads us to believe that the community trusts the hard work we are doing with the children of their community.”
Most people don’t go into the education profession thinking they’ll make a lot of money. Part of the reason district employees like what they do is that they are doing what they like.
“I love my job because: I am able to make a difference in the lives of kids,” one person wrote in the anonymous survey that determined the area’s top workplaces. That sentiment was echoed repeatedly in the survey.
But employees also like the fact that supervisors acknowledge their efforts:
“I feel respected and valued. ... I feel that we are a team and that we accomplish great things together!” one wrote.
Another wrote: “I actually like what I do and I am appreciated and acknowledged for it. I enjoy who I work for and with. It is an amazing work environment.”
A third commented: “I feel as if I work for a community of people that genuinely care about me as a person, and who appreciates the work that I do. It is evident that the Washington Local family has embraced me, from the moment I arrived. In addition, I believe in our leadership, and the ethical decisions that they make. All in all, a true testament of my love for my job is the fact that many times I forget I get paid for what I do.”