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School Districts Turn to Disney for Improvement, Inspiration

Disney, the world's most famous maker of dreams, has become one of the most sought-after gurus for school districts searching for new ways to make their dreams of increased academic achievement come true.

The Disney Institute—the professional development arm of the Magic Kingdom—most recently is working with Broward County schools in south Florida. The 260,000-student district hired the corporate titan of fun to help improve employee culture and customer service, according to this Miami Herald story. The goal, according to the story, is to make Broward's schools "a more pleasant place for students, parents, and district employees."

As Broward's chief quality service officer (sounds like a Disney-inspired job title, doesn't it?) tells the Herald: "The goal is not to make us look like Disney," it's "what is our version of Disney, for Broward County schools?"

The Disney Institute has already worked with hundreds of school systems and charter school operators in recent years. The 22,000-student Elizabeth school system in New Jersey is a featured case study on the Disney Institute's website. That district worked with Disney corporate specialists over six months to bring programs tailored for educators and school-related personnel for leadership development, customer service, and other Disney best practices.

In the case study, the Disney consultant describes leading groups of Elizabeth district employees through best practices, as well as presenting them a video on how the company's employees anticipate every "guest's" needs, including "where to place garbage cans or position toilets in the Magic Kingdom."

Traditional school improvement model, this is not.

One of the other big systems that I know has turned to Disney for advice is the 149,000-student Montgomery County, Md., district, where I worked for about 15 months in 2010 and 2011. The company helped the district design its first-ever formal orientation process.

There, I was part of a group of new hires (along with teachers, bus drivers, custodians and central office people) to go through the district's inaugural "onboarding" process which aims to introduce and inculcate new employees in the district's history, culture, and vision. It was heavy on demonstrating how dramatically the district's demographics had changed over the last three decades and featured stories of how individual MCPS employees had journeyed from entry-level jobs to career-making positions.

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