By Jim Flieler

We recently checked in with Jaci Bowen, Assistant Manager of Operations, Simcoe County District School Board in Ontario about the challenges she and her exemplary team of supervisors have overcome in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had a conversation about the operational insight this forward-thinking educational facility is bringing to its everyday operations in the midst of a global pandemic. During the conversation, which can be viewed in full in the link to our webinar, Jaci shared some of her team’s keys to success. We’d like to share some of these lessons with you below.

A plan for pandemic preparedness

In 2003, Jaci was a supervisor at Simcoe during the SARS pandemic. During that experience, her team put together a pandemic preparedness plan utilizing all of the lessons taken from SARS. “We asked ourselves if a pandemic were to hit again, how would we change the way we would clean, what will we focus on and where are our gaps,” says Jaci. 

One of the takeaways from their SARS experience that helped Simcoe during 2020 was the decision to implement and maintain a pandemic supply. This stockpile included wipes, disinfectants and PPE, including N95 masks. The pandemic supply became essential as schools across Canada and the world struggled with supply shortages in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 hit.

A culture of flexibility

As the world has learned more and more about COVID-19, we’ve all had to modify our behaviors and programs. Jaci’s team is no exception to this rule. They’ve adapted a fluid and flexible approach to the pandemic. “Our mantra has been ‘as you know better you do better,’” says Jaci. “This year has been an evolution of knowledge and a fluid situation.”

Part of that flexibility has demanded that the supervisors on the team step outside of their roles to help fill in gaps and connect with the community. Supervisors have been delivering hand sanitizer and wipes to schools, connecting with principals and making sure that all school stakeholders share the same knowledge and understanding of the virus and new processes. 

In addition, the entire Simcoe School Board has adapted a commitment to transparency. “We are hiding nothing,” says Jaci. “People are feeling like they are being honestly and openly served. People get worried, and you have to remember that when they are worried their questions must be met in a different way.”

Some of the changes the Simcoe operations team has had to adapt to beyond those related to infection control have to do with social distancing. Like most of us, the team has had to switch to virtual meetings rather than their monthly in-person meetings. “Part of having an effective working group is to be together and bounce ideas off each other,” says Jaci. “But having had that strong team foundation has helped us work through this challenge and make the most of our virtual meetings.”

Proven Systems
It helps that Jaci and her team have been trained very thoroughly and implemented streamlined cleaning processes for years before 2020. For example, the Simcoe board has been a leader in dilution control for as long as we have worked with them. Their custom, colour-coded wall charts and open charge bucket system have helped to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. This system set up the board to tackle increased frequencies necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic seamlessly. Having written standard operating procedures has helped the team update its frequencies and procedures quickly. 

“Dilution control is about properly and effectively cleaning and the safety of your staff and the people around you,” says Jaci. “As managers we look at the budget, and that is a piece of dilution control. But if you are overloading your school with disinfectant you are exposing your staff and the building community to risk and danger.”

We believe that we will come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic. The lessons from proactive people like Jaci and the Simcoe County District School Board is an example of exemplary leadership and management that we should all be emulating during these challenging times, and into the future.