EXEMPLARY CUSTOMER SERVICE
It is well known that “service” is our middle name. It is who we are and what we do on a daily basis. While it is hard to pick out just a few examples, the following clearly illustrate how our ESD 112 employees have provided exemplary customer service this year.
Child care was one of the only services to continue in person throughout the entire pandemic. Our child care staff were called upon to provide direct services to the children of first responders, such as doctors and nurses, and continued serving children enrolled in Early Head Start and other state funded programs. The Early Childhood Education team acquired necessary PPE, implemented safety and sanitation protocols, consolidated centers and modified services in order to meet the needs of families and our community.
Members of the Childcare Aware staff supplied child care providers with needed PPE so they could continue serving children and families. They also reached out to provide information and support when vaccinations became available.
The Nursing Corps and Audiology staff provided in-person supports and services to all the ESD 112 region partners and their families. The teams provided COVID-19 information, resources, consultation and even direct immunization support as needed. Audiology continued providing hearing screenings and devices to children.
Since March 2020, STEPS (Student Transition Educational Program), Quest Academy and the ESA continued providing virtual services to more than 1,450 students with disabilities and have increased their in-person services as school districts began to reopen. Quest Academy was the first facility in SW Washington to provide safe in-person support for special education students, beginning last summer.
The SPERO Center offered school districts a free opportunity for their middle and high school students to participate in interactive webinars covering a broad range of social emotional and mental health wellness topics. These services were beneficial to help support students with emotional challenges they have experienced due to negative impacts from the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, the Construction Services Group continued all statewide services to ensure all projects they support for school district partners continued to move forward.
These are just a few of so many examples I could provide where our employees made sure “service” stayed at the forefront of our work; having to overcome daunting obstacles and road blocks along the way.
CONSISTENTLY POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Employees at ESD 112 adjusted to remote working conditions with almost no notice and very little time to adapt. In the transition phase of the pandemic, I met virtually with over 150 staff members to check-in and gauge how they were all holding up. I heard nothing but positive stories from employees juggling working from home while schooling their children, continuing to report to the office so essential services would continue, providing direct service to students and successfully converting in person services to virtual so families and children would continue to have their needs met. Our staff did not stop. They forged ahead with grace, energy, smiles and appreciation.
Additionally, members of the ESD Connects Team, powered forward to ensure our employee traditions were not lost. The committee converted the staff favorite, Hootenany, to a virtual format that included a pumpkin carving contest. The tradition of the holiday party lived on as well with a virtual party and holiday messages from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, a gingerbread house decorating contest and an ugly sweater craft project. Perhaps, most importantly, the team provided our staff the opportunity to continue to give and bring joy to others by managing the annual holiday gift giving practice, collecting raincoats and rain boots for children and managing a food drive for older students, all of whom participate in our ESD programs. Managing all of these events is time consuming and challenging in person, but even more so over emails and zoom. This group was determined to keep some fun and positive energy in our workplace even during the most difficult of times.
GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND
As you can imagine, shifting the majority of our workforce from working in the office to home, created many unforeseen challenges on how to keep the flow of work moving and meet the needs of our districts and partners. In response, our Accounting, Budget and Payroll teams developed and implemented an electronic timesheet approval process, developed an electronic credit card approval process, completed revenue contracts, successfully processed payroll through the remote working environment, and adjusted systems as needed to ensure regular operations could continue. All of this was in addition to maintaining their regular, large workloads.
The IT Department provided agency support to employees transitioning to home offices. This included connection assistance, phone set-up, zoom tutoring, etc. all while continuing to keep our network fully functioning.
Our Facilities group remodeled office space to accommodate for more social distancing. They also completed numerous facilities upgrades and renovations at SPERO and the new Transportation Center; managed major roof projects, supported child care centers, distributed PPE to ESD programs, and supported the large statewide PPE distribution project.
Another challenge was simply figuring out how to continue operating safely and understanding all of the various rules and regulations, safety compliance requirements and various facets of COVID-19. Our Human Resources department immediately took the lead working on identifying and interpreting new Labor and Industry work safety requirements, new Federal Leave Laws, exceptions for high-risk employees and numerous other pieces of information that were released in a flurry and updated and/or changed frequently. Our HR team also helped facilitate vaccine resources for ESD 112 employees and nearly 2,000 school district staff and are currently developing and implementing the agency’s reopening plan that includes virtual information meetings for staff. Again, this was in addition to their regular work recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees, managing employee benefits, compensation and leave requests, to name just a few. Additionally, our fingerprinting services were one of the first to reopen across the state establishing protocols early on to keep up with the need for school districts.
And another noteworthy, above and beyond effort, was clearly displayed by our unemployment cooperative team. Unfortunately, one result of shutting down was large numbers of people lost their jobs and were forced to apply for unemployment. The ESD 112 Insurance staff saw unemployment claims jump nearly 200% in just a week and continued to climb for several months. The group worked on site, in the office daily and put in tireless hours to ensure people received their benefits and that fraudulent claims were not processed.
While almost every program in the agency had to exhibit creativity in order to continue to get the job done during the state-wide shutdown, the following programs really exemplified this category. These direct service programs typically met with families in their homes, visited child care providers in their centers, met with children and families in classrooms and provided trainings in person. Their work is structured around and built on personal face-to-face interactions which made it especially challenging to figure out how to effectively provide the same support virtually.
The Birth to Three Early Intervention program provides support to young children experiencing developmental delays, mostly meeting with families in their homes to assess their needs. Not only did the team transition to virtual meetings quickly, they focused on the positive outcomes that followed. They found that families were more engaged, services could still be provided when children were ill, and staff could reach out to families living far away. The program was also awarded a grant that allowed them to provide technical devices to families to ensure equitable opportunities were available for remote services.
123 Grow and Learn, normally holds educational interactive learning sessions for pre-school children and their parents in school buildings, libraries and other public locations. This team developed virtual playgroups and had 189 children the first day! They were able to expand their reach to children and families who otherwise wouldn’t have participated.
Prevention and Intervention staff and school programs continued reaching out to youth virtually. 257 students and families received support to re-engage in school through the Truancy project and Student Assistance Professionals remotely taught 1,458 students about healthy coping skills and effective prevention strategies in 6th and 9th grade classrooms. And over 300 youth received individualized instruction and academic support from the Open Doors program through virtual appointments and open office hours.
Early on, as schools started to close, the Teaching and Learning Division recognized the need to transition programs and services online and created the Remote Learning webpage for professional learning opportunities and vetted educational resources. Professional learning classes were transitioned to a virtual format when possible and tools for teaching and learning remotely were provided. There have been over 1,589 visitors since the page was developed.
Student and School Success team members played a pivotal role in implementing a new program led by the Association of ESDs called LMS Solutions. The program provides professional learning and technical support to educators and district leaders focused on five Learning Management Systems platforms. To date over 10,000 educators across Washington State have participated in trainings.
SUPERIOR TEAM EFFORTS
All of our ESD 112 teams provided unwavering support to our 30 school districts, state schools, community and statewide partners. Honestly each and every example in this nomination illustrates incredible teamwork and collaboration. The following projects provide clear examples of this:
ESD 112 stepped up to help schools across the state of Washington to acquire the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed for in -person education. This was a huge undertaking in an area of business we have not treaded in before. Our Business and Financial Management team jumped in head first and led the way. But could not have completed the work without tremendous cross department collaboration across the agency. Our purchasing department facilitated the bid and process for the items, school bus drivers from Specialized Transportation helped fill orders and deliver supplies, Facilities staff helped unload trucks and deliver supplies across the state and employees from every department were called upon to help fill orders so supplies could get sent on time. Eventually the partnership expanded to the other ESDs making this a statewide team effort of grand proportions.
Ultimately, this team ordered and delivered 19 million face coverings, 750,000 packages of sanitizing wipes, 120,00 boxes of gloves, 250,000 gowns and 80,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. By combining statewide PPE needs into one large bid, participating school districts and private schools secured these items at a much lower price per item, resulting in significant savings for everyone.
Our Communications team also jumped in from the beginning. They established regular check-ins with communications teams at the other ESDs and with school district communications representatives to share information, gather questions and ensure a unified message was sent across the region and state. The team also developed communications tool kits for school districts providing templates, graphics and information they could custom fit for their districts. This service was invaluable, especially for smaller districts with limited resources. Relationships were also built with local health departments and the statewide incident management team so first-hand information could be gathered and shared quickly. This link helped build a community team of health care professionals, incident management personnel, and school district staff all working together to share expertise and provide support to each other throughout the pandemic.
I know I did not talk about every group. I could go on for pages and pages! There were so many examples of creative, service-oriented, above and beyond, superior team efforts it is difficult to narrow the examples down to just a few. There is one more group though I want to mention. And that is the members of Cabinet. This group of people stepped up from the beginning, working endless hours talking through challenges, problem solving, and making difficult decisions. Each one saw their workloads grow and expand into unknown areas and each person met the challenge. They are a special group of people and I am fortunate to have them as part of my team.
In my 35 years working at and for the ESD, I have not had a time when I was prouder of every single staff member. Each person had to overcome the unknown to ensure we could continue to support our districts and ultimately children and families. While I don’t want to take away from the much earned and deserved personal accolades normally given to recognize the Spirit of ESD award, I feel every single employee lived and breathed this spirit over the last year. It is simply too hard to pick just one person and/or just one team. It is with gratitude and appreciation I nominate all ESD 112 Employees to receive the “Super Spirit of ESD” award this year.
-Tim Merlino, Superintendent