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Team from School District of Lee County wins Florida Sterling Storyboard Competition

July 17, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A project, Absent Minded, implemented at Lehigh Elementary School for decreasing staff absenteeism, recently won an award during the Florida Sterling Council's Storybook Showcase Competition in Orlando.

Continuous Improvement Coordinator Cindy McClung said the Florida Sterling Council, formed in 1992, is a not-for-profit organization based in Tallahassee whose purpose is to help any kind of organization become better at what they do. The Sterling Performance Excellence Criteria examines organizations from a systems perspective while holding them to exceptionally high standards.

The Florida Sterling Council's Storyboard Showcase Competition, which was held in Orlando, looked at improvement projects implemented within organizations, McClung said. The team put together a story of what they did, which stated their problem, what steps they went through, what intervention they put into place, how they implemented their project and the results.

Article Photos

Spring Creek Elementary School Lead Teacher Cheryl Dooley, Lehigh Elementary School Assistant Principal and Team Leader Jennifer Lusk and Manatee Elementary School Peer Collaborative Teacher Jeanette Walsh accepted an award during the Florida Sterling Storyboard Competition in Orlando for their project that helped decrease staff absenteeism.


"What made it really special is most of our (Lean Six Sigma) Green Belt teams are at our central office. This team that won was a school based team. They started their training last summer and implemented the project for the school year," McClung said. "We are really happy for them and thrilled to have that honor. It's a big deal to be recognized at the state level."

Lehigh Elementary School Assistant Principal and Team Leader Jennifer Lusk said it's very flattering to receive the award.

"You want your school to shine. Lehigh Elementary is the hidden gem in Lehigh," she said, adding that you can always feel the love and family type environment when going to the school. "Anytime your school has the spotlight on it, even for the moment, gives you a good feeling."

Lusk said what started off as a learning opportunity that the district provided, turned into finding a way to strategically improve elementary schools through the project, Absent Minded.

"Working with both the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt process and learning about the Sterling Criteria has truly improved not only school efficiency but also improved school culture and made strives to improve academic achievement," she said in a prepared statement. "I am incredibly grateful for being provided the opportunity to participate and cherish the friendships created in our team. Everyone's strengths shone through and the collaboration made the process that much more rewarding."

She said her and her teammates, who came from different elementary schools around the district, all had different experiences and backgrounds that they pulled together. The teammates included Spring Creek Elementary School Lead Teacher Cheryl Dooley and Manatee Elementary School Peer Collaborative Teacher Jeanette Walsh.

"We didn't really know exactly how to get started. We took information from training," Lusk said.

The group had some basic statistical information that they used to look at what would be the best way to support the school.

"We looked at a variety of different things that needed to be improved," she said, adding that they think very highly of their schools, but wanted to make life easier on staff.

When Hurricane Irma hit, Lusk said Lehigh Elementary School was hit very hard, leading to an increase in absenteeism of instructional staff. There are 76 full-time instructional staff members at Lehigh Elementary School. With staff absent, she said it affected the culture of the school, as well as the morale of students and families.

The problem statement "the 2017-2018 school year was a challenge as Hurricane Irma changed the landscape of our communities, as well as our school attendance saw a dramatic increase in instructional absenteeism."

The percentage of time absent by month was 9.5 percent in October, 9.9 percent in November, 9.4 percent in December, 11.2 percent in January, 9.9 percent in February, 10.2 percent in March, 9.2 percent in April and 12 percent in May.

The target became 6.5 percent of time absent by month, compared to the current 9 percent average. The problem statement was "the team will reduce the 287 non-consecutive absentee events by 50 percent by May 2019."

"We also wanted to be very proactive in finding a way to positively approach this, not negative in any means. We wanted to make their lives easier and healthier," Lusk said. "We wrote grants and worked with different staff members."

Responses gathered from an open-end survey showed that students were not fully trained on good hygiene, procedures for catching student illness were not followed in a timely manner, as well as staff not being informed on the benefits of sick time banking.

In August 2018, the training and wellness procedures began.

One of the outcomes from the survey resulted in the cafeteria manager creating a free fruit infused water, which staff could get at anytime during the day. Two fruit infused water stations were purchased by the kitchen crew at a cost of $40 with free training.

Lusk said it was a different way to focus on health and wellness. In addition a school-wide hydration challenge was created and new lunch trays were provided for portion control.

She said they also looked into fitness, resulting in a new School Run Club, which participated in the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools 5K. Lusk said it's about positively encouraging each other in becoming a healthier version of themselves.

The results were positive.

"The part that makes my heart the happiest is the school culture and morale. Everyone got so excited about the health and wellness aspect of it . . . seeing teachers I have never seen outside . . . they are coming to school early and staying late and walking around campus to get that extra step in," Lusk said.

The project also included the District Zombie Movement Challenge, which tracks an individual's steps. She said the challenge positively motivated everyone to keep moving.

"We actually had a significant drop in absenteeism," Lusk said.

The 2018-2019 school year, through March 29, showed a decrease in 3,450 hours of staff absenteeism, which equated to a savings of $42,642 in substitute teacher costs, which exceeded their expectations of their proposed impact.

She said they also looked at the impact this had on students, the savings in not bringing in substitute teachers. Lusk said although substitute teachers are fabulous, to have a certified teacher providing consistency while keeping their students on track, makes a much larger impact on the kids.

"People want to be there. They don't want to be absent. They want to be in school," she said of staff.

Lusk said the project is going to be bigger and better this year as they took what they learned and are looking for ways to make improvements.

"We are definitely on that continuous improvement model. We are going to continue with the Zombie Challenge and our Run Club. We are looking for more events schoolwide with our kids and families and educating our kids on proper handwashing and ways to stay healthy," she said.



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