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



Creating a welcoming main office space goes beyond the training of key personnel. The layout and atmosphere of the main office can contribute a lot to that welcoming feel too.

Making the main office a pleasant place is something to which Frank Hagen paid a lot of attention during his many years as principal at Saint Michaels (Maryland) Middle/High School. “We worked hard to make our school office the ‘welcome center’ of our school,” Hagen told Education World.

Information Center

To make visitors feel welcomed and informed, Frank Hagen’s office staff set up and kept stocked an “information center” that included items such as
  • copies of the school and district newsletters;
  • copies of the Student-Parent Handbook;
  • athletic schedules;
  • reading material such as magazines; and
  • other information relating to the school and larger community.
One of the first things Hagen did was to remove counters and other barriers between the reception area and offices. All office doors were secured in the open position so visitors had easy access to Hagen’s office as well as offices of the assistant principal, school manager, and athletic director. Beyond that…
  • Half of the office’s fluorescent lights were turned off, and appropriate festive holiday lighting was hung to make the atmosphere less sterile, more fun and welcoming.
  • Students in woodworking classes made signs that were hung from the ceiling to direct visitors to the main office, attendance office, nurse’s office, and guidance office.
  • A waiting area with comfortable seating was set up.
  • ID badges were kept adjacent to the parent and visitor sign-in logs so visitors could fill them in and wear them.
  • Student assistants were available to escort parents and visitors or retrieve a student from class.
  • A “Welcome” sign on the front door greeted visitors in both English and Spanish. The reverse side of the sign thanked them for coming.
  • An aquarium helped set a calming tone.
  • A suggestion box invited opinions about the school.
  • Student of the Month and Staff Member of the Month pictures were displayed in a prominent spot.
  • Students sent to principal or assistant principal for disciplinary matters were sent to a time-out room that was out of sight of visitors.

    Each year, the school’s administrative and office teams reviewed procedures for greeting parents and visitors. Those “refresher courses” were always focused on improving the visitor experience and taking advantage of a unique opportunity for some positive public relations.

    As hard as Hagen worked to make his office a welcoming spot, there were things he always wanted but never got. “My wish list would have included a buzzer system at the entrance to announce visitors and better secure the building; security cameras in the main office; and computers that parents and other visitors might use as they wait.”

    At Woodward Academy in Detroit, the front office is the first point of contact for the public as they do business with the school. That’s why Principal Layne Hunt has taken pains to make it aesthetically pleasing as well as operationally functional.

    “The colors, scents, and sounds are pleasing and soothing to our office staff and visitors,” said Hunt. “We’ve included plants, artwork, music, snacks such as candy or cookies, and air fresheners to help our office be a pleasant place to visit.

    “And I work hard to ensure that our office displays what we are all about. We display student work; and a flat-screen monitor runs a PowerPoint slide show that includes information about our school, the latest school news, and announcements of special events of the day and week.

    “I firmly believe the more pleasant the main-office experience, the more productive and pleasant that other encounters will be throughout the building for everyone.”

    At Rindge (New Hampshire) Memorial School, Principal John Stone had the unique opportunity for input when it came time to design his school’s office space. An addition to the building put the old office space in a spot that was inconvenient to the school’s new natural entrance, so Stone took over a classroom at the front of the building and converted it into the school’s main office.

    “A wall was put in to separate my space at the back of the classroom from the main office and a waiting area,” said Stone. “Since my new office was a former classroom, I now have a large space with closets, cabinets, a sink, and other nice features. And the windows in my office look out onto the parking lot and playground.”

    Up front, plants, a clean countertop, and two friendly secretaries greet visitors, added Stone.

    Missing Pens

    When Principal John Stone and his secretaries realized that their pens were always “walking away” with visitors, a plan was hatched. Large artificial flowers were attached to a bunch of different pens and that “pen bouquet” is kept in a vase on the counter. Now when a visitor uses a pen, the flower serves as a reminder that the pen belongs to the office, not their pockets or purses.
    Another benefit from the reconfiguration is that Stone can lock all the doors to the building except for the door near the main office. Once the kids are in, visitors must enter through that front door, which provides easy access to the main office.

    “The office is also very close to the café and gym, so meetings are close by and not on the other side of the building like before,” added Stone. And the new office is close to the offices of the guidance counselor and behavior specialist, with whom Stone works closely.

    Principal Addie Gaines was in on the planning of her office space too. “The main office where my administrative assistant is seated has a large window so she can observe the lobby,” explained Gaines, who is principal at Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School.

    Since the school shares a nurse with the district’s middle school, the administrative assistant’s office space also provides a direct view of the nurse's office.

    “That is one of the things I wanted when I designed our office complex. In our old building, we could not observe the nurse's office so we had to send kids back to class or home when the nurse was not on duty.”

    The office’s proximity to the school entrance makes it a natural spot for visitors to stop to sign in, added Gaines, whose office is on the opposite side of the admin area from the nurse’s space. Her space includes a conference area with a table that seats 6; nine feet of floor-to-ceiling shelving; and a door to the outside.

    Read the Other Parts of This Article
    Does Your School Office Shout “Welcome!”?
    The Office Toolkit: Improving Efficiency and Security

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