Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson spoke for more than a few parents in September when she described the unhelpful, even hostile, attitudes displayed by some school front office staff.
"People walk in and there's Sad Sack, Sorry Sue and Sister Snap-at-You," she said, promising to address the problem.
On Wednesday, Henderson and Chief of Schools John Davis met with office employees to discuss a new ten-page set of “Front Desk Customer Service Protocols,” apparently designed to cover every possible breach of civilized conduct, including physical assault.
“Body language says everything!” it says in the section on “Customer Service Essentials.”
Some tips for handling phone calls:
“Do not eat food or chew gum while talking with constituents.”
“Do not hold secondary conversations with individuals other than the caller while caller is on the phone.”
“Do not indicate disapproval of a customer’s request.”
“Do not be rude.”
“Do not become confrontational.”
“Do not express personal opinions to customers about DCPS or school policies or procedures.”
Under “Limited English Proficiency Interactions,” staff are reminded to:
“Never indicate, verbally or in writing, that a customer must speak English in order to get service.”
“Do not raise your voice.”
“Recognize that customers of some cultures are not demonstrative. For example, a smile may hide truer emotions, such as frustration and/or confusion.”
And, most important, “Never become physically confrontational (ex. grabbing, shaking or touching in any way)”
Michael Flood, president of AFSCME Local 2921, which represents about 300 school registrars, administrative assistants, and clerical workers, said Henderson’s description is an unfair caricature.
“I’m not saying we don’t have bad apples in the bunch,” said Flood , who added that it might be helpful if office staff received some actual training. “But overall these people have labored tremendously,” under difficult circumstances, he said.
Their disposition might improve if they got a raise, something Flood said hasn’t happened since 2006. Registrars make between $27,000 and $35,000 a year; administrative aides between $34,000 and 45,000.
He said four years of bargaining with the District reached an impasse, followed by arbitration. Workers were awarded $1,200 lump sum payments in July, Flood said, but have yet to see money.
“They’re being set up to fail,” he said.