Until recently, new Montgomery school employees were typically given a stack of paperwork and an appointment to get fingerprinted, Weast said. “We didn’t tell people the aspirational things we want them to accomplish,” he said.
Executives from Sodexo and Deloitte, among other companies, shared their onboarding programs with school leaders and referred them to Disney, which is highly regarded for its staff training.
During their 2007 visit, Montgomery school officials learned that Disney employees are called “cast members” and that everyone in the company’s resorts and theme parks, from Mickey Mouse to janitors, is expected to “create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Disney’s first-day orientation, called “Traditions,” maps out the company’s history and vision statement and invites new employees to share their first Disney memory. They watch clips of old Disney movies, and some employees have been known to cry.
Jones, of the Disney Institute, said it’s important to encourage an emotional attachment to the company’s mission because — more than pay or benefits — that is what will inspire them “to go above and beyond.”
Montgomery’s new orientation course, introduced last year, makes clear the school system’s culture and expectations. Also called “Transitions,” it is mandatory for all employees, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and managers. Joshua P. Starr, the new superintendent, is scheduled to take the course in October.
Employees learn the history of county schools through demographic changes — from an enrollment that was 92 percent white in 1970 to one that is far more diverse, with nearly a third of students living in poverty.
They watch videos about stellar employees, including a facilities manager who started a mentoring program for struggling teens, and a Korean immigrant who was hired as a teacher’s aid and rose to become a principal.
During one session in Rockville on a muggy August afternoon, three dozen recently hired teachers and bus drivers were introduced to their new employer’s vision statement in evangelical call-and-response fashion.
“A high-quality education is a fundamental right for who?” asked a high-energy facilitator. “Every child,” came the muffled response. “For WHO?” the call came again. “Every child,” the group said, a little louder.
“That’s right,” the facilitator said. “Every child.”
The group talked about the growing global competition for jobs and why every student needs a good education for any chance at a middle-class life.
Later, Chris Lloyd, vice president of Montgomery’s teachers union and a chief architect of the training program, mapped out the ultimate academic challenge. His color-coded charts showed black and Latino students performing at the bottom and white and Asian students at the top.
He called on all the employees to help make that disparity disappear.
“We haven’t done it yet,” he said. “But, collectively, we will.”