Home Top Stories School's Operating Chief Outlines Managing Results for Student Transportation at NAPT Summit
School's Operating Chief Outlines Managing Results for Student Transportation at NAPT Summit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sylvia Arroyo   
Monday, 29 October 2012 14:10

michael-eugeneMichael Eugene, chief operating officer of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., is a firm believer in performance-based management, which includes incorporating Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to improve district-wide operations, especially transportation.

His opening keynote presentation on Sunday, Oct. 21, which kicked off this year’s NAPT Summit conference in Memphis, Tenn., focused on why this type of management matters in today’s economy and competitive environment, particularly for student transporters in attendance.

Eugene has always practiced performance-based management at the district level, first as executive director of operations, then as COO, at Cleveland Metropolitan School District from 1998 to 2002, and then as business manager for Los Angeles Unified School District from 2002 to 2009. He was recruited in 2009 to serve as the COO of OCPS, working under the leadership of new Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

School Transportation News spoke with Eugene before the Summit about his experience implementing performance-based management at these districts and how it improved student transportation.

STN: As a COO, have you always incorporated KPIs, or did you have other methods that you practiced?

Eugene: I’ve always used KPIs as a foundation for continuous improvement, transparency, and accountability for results. However, KPIs are a single tool in a larger toolbox called performance management. While there have been, and continue to be, many management quality initiatives, I use the Government Accounting Standards Board’s (GASB) “Managing for Results” framework.

Performance management can be a complex, and frankly scary, thing for an organization that has never managed through those methods. GASB’s Managing for Results framework ties together the easily understandable aspects of strategic planning, project management, program budgeting, performance measurement, analysis and reporting.

For the past 10 years, I’ve provided my superintendent and board of education with an annual report called “Service Efforts & Accomplishments” that documents where we’ve accomplished objectives, and where we still have improvements to make.

STN: How did you apply performance-based management at Cleveland Metropolitan SD and LAUSD?

Eugene: In Cleveland, the superintendent’s critical priorities were to establish technical leadership and reduce costs to get the district financially stable after five years of state receivership. A first aspect of performance management was the recruitment of technical experts to lead each department. Many folks don’t realize that organizational development is really the first approach to performance management. Your ability to achieve optimal performance is dependent on the skill sets you have in your team. I then asked the Council of Great City Schools to conduct a “peer review,” where some of the top operational executives from around the country helped identify priorities that were formulated into a strategic plan. Within that framework, performance management was used to reduce costs while simultaneously improving services.

In Los Angeles, I needed to improve the performance management approach, given the size of the second largest school district in the country with some very challenging performance issues. I knew that with more than 10 operational locations and 7,000 staff members in the business services division, alignment on strategic priorities, and data to assess results, would be the only way to manage.

A much more structured approach was used through the development of “strategy maps” to establish plans to accomplish results. We then developed a balanced scorecard to ensure we kept focus on our strategic priorities.

Once our team saw the momentum build in how performance management can truly produce results, from modernizing buses, providing more children with nutritious meals, to driving costs down through strategic purchasing, we knew there was no other way to manage.

STN: What were OCPS’ operations like when you first joined the district?

Eugene: When I joined OCPS, then Superintendent Ron Blocker, and then Chief of Staff (now Superinterndent) Dr. Barbara Jenkins, asked me to focus on “systems thinking” and to accelerate and maintain performance improvements. The historical culture of the operations division would be best described as “situational” management. There still existed some of the old management clichés such as, “we’ve always done it that way,” “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and I ran into some parts of the leadership team that were actively resistant to change. Much of the data was “efforts” based, such as the “number of storage tanks inspected” (and the result always looked great at 100 percent), rather than “outcome” based, such as “percent of storage tanks that passed inspection.”

STN: And how has it improved?

Eugene: As I mentioned earlier, the first priority of an executive has to be organizational development and alignment so you have the right team, with the right skill sets, focused on the right priorities. Of the eight departments within operations, there are five new department heads leading them.

We have very detailed strategy maps that show how we are shaping the path to achieve our priorities, and measure our progress by results instead of by efforts. Initiatives are accepted only after business cases are developed that illustrate what is needed, and the ROI that will result in terms of quality improvement and/or lower costs. No stone is being left unturned in the pursuit of efficiencies to lower costs so we can move those monies to the classroom, and improve the quality of services to our customers.

STN: So, new leadership was recruited for the transportation department as well. How did your practices improve student transportation?

Eugene: Through the use of performance management frameworks and the Council of Great City Schools’ KPIs and benchmarks, our strategic priorities include: 1) reducing costs through maximizing average bus occupancy, 2) increasing our in-service rate by maximizing the use of the fleet, 3) enhancing staff availability for services by reducing workers compensation and other long-term leaves, and 4) reducing the environmental impacts of busing through fleet modernization, idle time management, deadhead mileage reduction, and the pursuit of bio-diesel, if we can get the costs down. Even areas that we perform well on have identified improvements.

CGCS ranks us as having some of the fewest preventable accidents in the country, yet the team is still conducting causal analysis to reduce them even more, because even having one is not acceptable. They are setting the bar very high for themselves, and find motivation to obtain far-reaching goals.

This year, Jim Beekman, our new director, is establishing scorecards at every level of the transportation department. Now, staff can measure how their actions are linked to improving our overall results. Performance management is a new world for the transportation team. They are rising to the occasion with a passionate desire to pursue world-class performance status.

STN: What are some future goals for OCPS in the next few years that would involve performance-based management?

Eugene: We currently manage to five-year strategic plans, so we are well defined in terms of immediate and future goals. An area that is still being developed is a comprehensive sustainability plan district-wide. Corporate responsibility calls for good environmental stewardship, and we are developing a district-wide strategy to reduce electrical, water, paper, waste and vehicle emissions. We are in the process of developing comprehensive strategies with three types of outcome measures that will focus on cost savings, reduced material consumption and reduction of our carbon footprint.

STN: This year, OCPS won the Council of Great City Schools’ “Managing for Results in Amercia’s Great City Schools” award for its performance-based management. For which efforts was the award given?

Eugene: In two very short years at OCPS, the operations leadership team implemented extensive performance management methods to accelerate our momentum to achieve better results in cycle time efficiency, lower costs, improved quality and customer service. Because the CGCS award is based on statistically proven results, it is an important illustration of how the hard work our team has improved our results.

CGCS focused on four core operational areas for the award including: 1) Food Services, where we are greatly increasing the number of students eating nutritious meals, lowering costs, and engaging the student as our customer in a way that has attracted the attention of the first lady and the White House’s executive chef; 2) Transportation, where we are lowering costs without impacting services; 3) Safety and Security, where we’ve focused on national industry standards for safety management and training, and 4) Maintenance, where we’ve maintained lower costs and showed fast response to work orders for repairs. CGCS creates an index of all of the KPIs within those areas of the work, and the top performers identified through the KPI data were recognized.

STN: Anything else you’d like to add?

Eugene: If OCPS can be of assistance to folks in doing this work, please don’t hesitate to call on us. We will learn from you in the process.


Eugene, second from left, with OCPS' transportation team in front of one of the district's new school buses.
Eugene's Beginner Tips on Implementing Performance Management in Student Transportation:

— Make sure you have the right folks on each seat of your bus: Organizational optimization is the first priority of any performance-based executive. Your success is dependent on the effectiveness of your team.

— Data, data, data: Start with the data before you identify solutions. You don’t know what the problem is until you’ve quantified it.

— Focus on outcomes instead of efforts: By starting strategic planning work with the outcomes you want to achieve, you are more likely to develop a plan that will actually help you get there. So, begin with the end in mind.

— Create a continuous improvement culture: Every area of transportation can improve, even the smallest amount. As soon as you stop improving, you begin to lose your edge. Turn over every stone, because underneath you are sure to find something you can do better.

— Manage to priorities: It’s too easy in operational areas like transportation to get pulled into managing situations. A performance-based executive should manage to priorities and strategies if overall improvements will be made and sustained. Managing situations is important, but when you have the right team on your bus, they can be empowered to handle most of those tasks.

— You don’t need a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito: While OCPS may be farther along with performance management, we use basic tools like Excel and Word to develop our framework. Basic templates can accelerate your organization and collection of information. I’d be happy to share ours.

— Just jump in: If you wait until you have the perfect framework and the perfect measures, you will likely not get going. So, jump in use some of the industry measures that are out there to get going. The process of developing this work will cause you to ask the right questions, and it will help you get better at it over time.


Last Updated on Thursday, 01 November 2012 09:49