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Your School's Main Office:
Setting a Tone for the
Entire School

Is your school’s main office set up to be a truly welcoming place? Is its layout conducive to conducting business? Are there tools in your office that you couldn’t live without? Those are some of the questions we posed this month to our “Principal Files” team. Included: Tips for improving your school’s main office environment.

In most school buildings, the main office serves as a hub around which all other activities revolve. It is often said with a smile that the office folks really “run the show.” And there is some truth to that: as the school’s chief public relations representatives, members of the office staff frequently know more about what’s going on in the building than anyone else.

As the school’s public face, each day the front office staff greets dozens of parents, community members, and other visitors; communicates with most of the staff; and answers countless phone calls. For that reason, it is of utmost importance that the office atmosphere and layout set a welcoming tone and that the office hub is equipped with the tools and technology that make it an efficient business-like operation.



At Oakleaf K-8 School in Middleburg, Florida, principal Larry Davis says visitors are always greeted in a friendly manner. “Our office staff makes sure they have at hand everything a visitor might need. That includes teacher schedules so they can easily contact a teacher; a calendar of events so they know what is going on and what’s coming up; a complete school roster; and maps to help visitors find their way.”

When information -- including schedules and student information -- is readily available to office personnel, visitors get the message that the office staff has everything under control, said L’Keldra Pride, principal at Green Hill Elementary School in Sardis, Mississippi.

Office staff should never keep parents or other visitors waiting, said Bonita Henderson, a Cincinnati Public Schools administrator. “And it would not hurt to have parent magazines handy for them to read while waiting to be helped.”

“We need to make visitors feel welcome,” added Pride. “Schools should be treated like our visitors’ second homes.”

“No matter how well your office space is set up, the main ingredient for a successful office experience for visitors is to have the right people working there,” says Rob Ackerman, principal at Lane Elementary School in Bedford, Massachusetts. “Parents’ impressions of schools, for better or worse, are often formed by their office interactions. If you are greeted warmly and promptly, then your overall mindset toward the school is accented toward the positive.”

Principal Karen Mink agrees. “My office staff is unbelievable,” said Mink, who is principal at Jefferson Elementary School in DeKalb, Illinois. “I have never worked with a more congenial staff. My secretary greets every parent and student as if she was genuinely happy to see them. It is amazing to watch, and the parents and I adore her.”

At Jefferson, the personal touch extends beyond the office. As visitors enter the building, a “safety monitor” greets them as they sign in, added Mink.

“My secretaries are the best of the best,” says John Stone, principal at Rindge (New Hampshire) Elementary School. “No matter how they feel, their happy faces shine when they greet visitors.”

While Stone’s office staff has had some customer service training, their approaches to the school’s customers -- kids, staff, and parents -- is more natural than learned and practiced. When office procedure issues arise, Stone and his office staff talk things through.

“We talk about how to do things,” said Stone. “Sometimes they agree with me and other times they have better ideas. We try things and are willing to change as needed.”

Principal Les Potter recognizes that the school’s front office is the first line of defense with parents and vendors, so each member of the nine-person office team at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida, is crossed-trained so the front office runs efficiently at all times.

Most important of all, Potter said, is that office personnel always remember that parents are not as knowledgeable as the rest of us are about the school district and its policies. “Parents get frustrated with the system, so we must be patient with them as we help them work with the system,” he said.

Read the Other Parts of This Article
Office Layouts Are Key
The Office Toolkit: Improving Efficiency and Security

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