Updated: Sep 3, 2020
During this time, we too often come across articles and posts revealing the devastating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Those stories are plentiful and need to be heard; however, it is especially important during these times to also highlight the inspirational stories of individuals and businesses as they tackle this pandemic with success. I would like to shine a light on one organization’s journey to lead during this time. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with members of Julie Billiart Schools' Response Team regarding the schools' careful and diligent response to the pandemic. I found Julie Billiart Schools' response and strategy in a time of crisis simply inspiring. The following short article highlights this nonprofit’s strategy as the school adapts to the pandemic while continuing to focus on the key points of the nonprofit mission, which is bringing specialized educational services to the children and families they serve.
Julie Billiart Schools ~ The Story
Julie Billiart Schools (JB) are a network of local schools in our Northern Ohio community that offer specialized education to children in grades K-8, with special needs and learning differences. As I work in the nonprofit community, I had the opportunity to tour the Lyndhurst school in the past, and was moved by the mission, leadership, staff, children, and the entire atmosphere. The tour left an everlasting impression of a staff strongly committed to a mission and students who openly adored the school.
Recently, I came across a post on Julie Billiart Schools' Beyond Camp summer program. Beyond Camp was nearing completion and a JB mission success story. With all the difficulties placed upon businesses and schools during this time, I was pleased to hear of the program's success. I found this inspiring and was not surprised as I had firsthand experience with the schools' staff and commitment to the mission under normal circumstances. I felt with such a leadership team in place, it would be beneficial and inspiring to other organizations to see how this “team” managed these challenging times to meet the mission.
I had the opportunity to reach out to the school to discuss their approach during this time. In this case, Julie Billiart Schools' Director of Marketing, Samantha Voshall, and the President/CEO, Lannie Davis-Frecker, shared the schools' Response Plan. In addition, JB recognizes Beyond Camp is a "coordinated success" due to the advanced health & safety protocols, the amazing counselors, and the excellent communication between the students and families. As Ms. Voshall explains, “The leadership understands the teachers and counselors are on the “front lines” and they are the ones who deserve the credit.”
To help us better understand the schools' plan, Lannie and Samantha walked me through the development and implementation of their Covid “Response Plan and Response Team.”
The Response Plan
A Response Plan is a plan of policies and procedures designed to deal with critical situations such as disasters or emergencies. These plans are often layered and vary according to each organization's unique needs. From my experience, Response Plans focus heavily on disasters, IT, cybersecurity, and fraud prevention. These days, we are seeing Response Plans "kick into action" with policies and procedures focusing on the pandemic, such as health & safety protocols and often business interruption.
JB Schools' plan is a great example of a Response Plan designed to respond to the pandemic, while maintaining the mission. The JB Team explains, "Every plan, policy, and procedure we've put in place in response to the pandemic is to first and foremost keep our kids, faculty, and staff safe. It's our greatest responsibility to make sure we're still offering the best education available for children with learning differences. Regardless of the format, our kids need individualized support, challenging academics, and access to speech, occupational, music, and art therapies."
JB Response Plan, Team, and Timeline
One thing I find remarkable about Julie Billiart Schools is the way in which the staff and the leadership work together. There is a pleasant tone between the members of the staff, and it is clear staff, teachers, and counselors enjoy the work and working together. I feel the exceptional teamwork between the staff and the Response Team is their continued recipe for success.
See the JB Response Plan below
In March 2020 ~ Initial state restrictions
JB learned of the new restrictions and had one week to transition to distance learning. The school relied on and credits the teachers for the work required to make this critical and quick transition possible.
In April of 2020, JB formed a Response Team
The JB team consists of 8 leadership members from across the organization:
President and CEO, Lannie Davis-Frecker, M.Ed.
CFO, Judy Kreger, CPA
Lyndhurst Principal, Jodi Johnston, M.Ed.
Akron Principal, Jason Wojnicz, M.Ed.
Westlake Principal, Samantha Evers, M.Ed.
Director of Advancement, Anne Jarrad HR Manager, Michelle Skoletsky
Director of Marketing, Samantha Voshall, MBA
In April, the response team began meeting daily.
The team developed a number of critical questions, all of which were key in the success of fulfilling the JB mission as well as the operational aspect.
The critical questions to accomplish the mission under new restrictions:
· How does the "Covid situation" affect the health and safety of the students, faculty, and staff?
· How does the "Covid situation" affect the learning support?
· How can we continue to provide the social, emotional, and therapeutic services to the students through a different "lens", so that they still benefit? For example, as they do from in-house speech therapy, music therapy, and art therapy.
· How do we manage distance learning verses in person?
· How do we manage the operational aspect of the organization through this period?
· How can JB as a nonprofit and private school continue to operate?
· How are we staffing and planning for Covid?
In May 2020 ~ Continued response team meetings
In May, the response team continued daily meetings.
JB conducted a year-end survey to families. This was a great way for the organization to check in with parents to see how the school did, what went well, and what the families needed.
The team continued to look ahead to summer and fall planning. The team focused on scenarios such as if the students could not return, what were the options.
June and July 2020 ~ Solidify plans for the fall
The fall plans included professional development, measuring of classrooms, and monitoring the summer Beyond Camp.
JB concluded the Beyond Summer camp program, which was extremely successful due to all parties involved. The 4 week program served approximately 52 children.
Julie Billiart Schools and leadership credits counselors, families, and the children for the success of spring semester 2020 and the summer program.
As JB moves into the school year, the school continues to utilize the careful and meticulous coordination of the JB Response Team, along with the teachers and counselors.
Julie Billiart Schools' story is an example of how one organization’s mission can adapt to a challenge and still have a successful outcome. The Response Team is the guiding force; however, the success of the mission involves every member of the organization, including the students and their families.
For more details on Julie Billiart Schools, please visit www.juliebilliartschool.org.
Blog/Article By: Christine Meador
CMM Consulting Services, LLC.
Photo By: Laura Bilger (@laura_varenka)