Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Arlington School Board members are asking for information about staff turnover. Superintendent Patrick Murphy doesn’t have it. That fact is rightly causing the School Board to push for more information.

If you have ever left a professional job voluntarily, you have probably been asked to provide an exit interview. Many employers do this because they want to keep good employees. The information they gain in these exit interviews is designed to help them understand what they can do to make the work environment better.

Is it pay? Is it opportunity for advancement? Is the commute too long, causing someone to miss family time? Is there a toxic manager or staff member who is making it hard to come to work each day? Knowing this information and adjusting your policies accordingly may not keep the last employee who left, but it might help you avoid losing the next one.

According to Superintendent Patrick Murphy, APS is still “gearing up” to do some form of one-on-one exit interviews. Departing employees, not surprisingly, are generally not responding to what sounds like requests for participation in online surveys.

While the exit interview can help you after the fact, hopefully School Board members are asking other management and work environment questions.

How is Murphy training principals and other management level staff to regularly check in with the people who report to them? Are they encouraged to do regular one-on-one meetings with staff members to get feedback? Is Murphy doing the same thing with the staff members who report directly to him?

In other words, do staff at all levels feel like they have regular and open lines of communication to the person who is providing leadership to them on the organizational chart? Or is the environment one where they only communicate when there is a problem from below or a directive from “on high?”

And how is Superintendent Murphy held accountable for the level of communication?

While it seems like investing time in opening lines of communication might not seem to fit into a busy calendar, it can save so much time later in dealing with the crises caused by problems left bubbling below the surface. And ultimately, the information you gain by gathering input from your team on a regular basis is far superior to the information you gain from an exit interview after someone has already decided to leave.

If a change in the communications culture is in order at APS, it is never too early to start.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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