It's a sign of the times.
We all want to do something to help get the economy back on track.
While some of us look to the big ticket items — such as wooing CEOs and investing in business expansion incentives — others are looking at the fundamentals. They include things we can do at no extra charge. They just require some thought.
The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce is launching a class for companies with lots of contact customers. The course seeks to show how to hire and keep key employees and be courteous, thoughtful, helpful and enthusiastic.
The chamber wants the nSpire Naples mind set to become part of our culture and make Naples synonymous with customer service as pleasant as our weather and as fine as our beaches.
This is a sign of the times. In the past, we didn't have to do any of this. We sort of knew people would come in the winter and bring lots of money whether we were nice to them or not.
These days those customers are to be appreciated. They have plenty of other places to go. They can even stay home.
Make no mistake. Everyone doesn't get it. Getting good, fundamental service can be so trying and rare that you want to kiss and hug the guy who just shows up on time or returns a phone call.
There is room for improvement on the front lines as well as the executive suite.
The chamber is fashioning the curriculum — no consultants from Disney — and has the credentials to do so. Michael Wynn is chairman-elect of the chamber and part of the Wynn family that has made Sunshine and Sunshine Ace the go-to brands for hardware and premium groceries with friendly, skilled customer service. People go there even though they could save a little money at a big-box store.
This column is not about drumming up students for nSpire Naples. I share the sponsors' confidence that the initial class of 30 to 50 professionals who will meet four times over the next few months will fill up quite nicely without any hard sell from me — or anyone else.
And tune in to this other sign of the times.
While past superintendents of Collier County Public Schools immersed themselves in the business end — finances, contracts, Tallahassee — today's superintendent, Kamela Patton, hits you straight on with this: "I am the academics superintendent."
That impression immerges from her description of something called data dialogues.
They are conferences featuring Patton and top central administrators around the conference table. Principals and assistant principals are seated around them, and a two-person team from each school takes its turn in the hot seats.
The teams respond to questions known by everyone in the room in advance about the data — mostly results of the latest standardized tests, broken down by class and even by teacher. Questions focus on how problems are being addressed — staffing needs are fair game — and how successes can be shared.
The message, Patton says, is that each principal owns his or her own school and is accountable. Plus, the data dialogues are like auditions for the assistant principals — part of Patton's very public goal of expanding the pool of leadership talent by targeting and grooming successors at all levels.
Principals and assistant principals go in groups — elementary, middle and high schools. All of them stay in the room for the others' presentations. It is a learning experience all the way around. It can be stressful in advance, Patton concedes, but after the first one is over, principals and assistants are eager for the next time.
Patton gave this overview to our editorial board. We met at the Administrative Center with School Board Chair Roy Terry and another veteran educator, Gary Brown. When asked how data dialogues were handled in the past, they replied there were no such things.
Patton makes it clear that the timing for these data dialogues is deliberate — with changes in standardized tests and their scoring that are sure to confuse and frustrate educators who are not prepared. We have seen the new rankings of school systems, followed by rankings of schools, and there is more to accountability to come, she says.
She does not want to hear complaints about all this overlooking individual students' needs and the essence of learning. The rules are what they are, she says, and those who are not aboard do not have their students' best interests at heart.
What's new here is the way the data are being used. In the past the numbers were worked to defend the status quo or overwhelm questioners so bureaucrats could be left alone.
Now the numbers are being mined for performance.
Because we have to — with the academics superintendent leading the way.
A sign of the times.
* * *I don't care who sings the national anthem at the Super Bowl game that will be won by the Patriots. It cannot be sung any better than Steven Coburn of Barron Collier High School does it in a very special video on our web site at naplesnews.com/videos.
He moved the crowd at last week's Empty Bowls event at Cambier Park, and gave an impromptu concert in the lobby of the Daily News for the video.
Go online and see for yourself.