Feb 22

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Building a special school from the ground up

It probably seems like a bad idea to suggest that people building a unique school may have something to learn from the way Toyota makes cars. Nevertheless, here goes.


The only reason this works at all is because the Toyota Production System, sometimes called Lean Manufacturing, is very different than the “interchangeable parts” mass production strategy made famous by Henry Ford. Lean places a much higher value on the individual doing the work. In fact, one of the eight kinds of “waste” lean practitioners work to eliminate is wasted intelligence, a loss that occurs when we try to make people conform to a process instead of designing processes to not only conform to people but actually fully engage them. Put more simply, lean recognizes that the people on the floor doing the work have invaluable information about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change.


This is a fundamental reversal of the more typical western assumption that the most valuable information is held by people at the top, and that running an organization well means making sure orders run smoothly from the knowing people in charge down to the people “executing.”


At Cloverleaf, we are trying to figure out how to build a school around our special kids, understanding that each of them is on his or her own journey. We are not trying to build a school around a certain curriculum. Or student-teacher ratio. Or class room set up. We are trying instead to determine where each student is on broad set of academic, social, and physical dimensions, what her or his best possible learning trajectory on each dimension is, and how to organize all of our resources around helping all our students realize their full potential. We still have a lot to learn, but one thing we know for certain is that the only way an effort like ours will succeed is from the ground up.


Our teachers, Emily Swindall, Sarah Stine, Jen Nash, and Katherine McGee, are spectacular. They know our children incredibly well and are fully committed to their success. They are tireless in the efforts to explore, create, experiment, and discover the way forward for each of their students. I suspect very few students in Georgia, or the nation for that matter, have as much skill, passion, and hope at their disposal. One indication of how far our empowered staff have taken Cloverleaf in just a few short months is the outcome of a GAC accreditation visit earlier this week. A great result would have been a recommendation from the visiting consultants for provisional accreditation. What they told us is that they were so blown away by the school that they are inclined to recommend immediate full accreditation.


As a founding parent and board member, I think the school’s leadership can take some credit for this fantastic outcome. We had the good sense to hire exceptional professionals and let them work. That’s pretty much the Toyota strategy, and it seems to be working well so far.


Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/building-a-special-school-from-the-ground-up/

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