To Make Parents Feel Welcome, Georgia Schools Learn from Ritz-Carlton

What could the hotel giant Ritz-Carlton have to teach schools? Exactly what they’re experts in – hospitality. Specifically, administrators and teachers from all over Georgia are hoping to gain tips on how to make parents as welcome in their schools as Ritz-Carlton guests are in hotels.

That is why Michelle Sandrock, who heads up Georgia’s parent engagement program, asked Ritz-Carlton to design a training program for school staff along the same lines as the training programs they offer in-house, including teaching school workers how to stage a “wall of applause” to welcome parents as they enter the building.

The Ritz-Carlton has long been known for rolling out the red carpet for its guests, with a dedication to customer service and satisfaction. It’s those lessons that educations officials hope to bring from the hotel to the classroom.
‘‘All organizations can benefit from providing good customer service,’’ said Sue Stephenson, a Ritz-Carlton vice president who oversees the company’s community outreach programs. ‘‘It’s not just running a luxury hotel. It is about service. It’s about feeling welcome and valued. And that’s what makes people go back.’’

Karen L. Mapp of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education believes that Georgia leads the country when it comes to friendly school initiatives. Recognizing that parental involvement plays a substantial role in student success, the state has funded a number of programs designed to make it easier for parents to walk the hallways and visit classrooms. Even having these efforts coordinated at the state level makes Georgia a standout, according to Mapp.

Associated Press reports that the engagement program receives $300,000 in annual funding from the state and has three full-time employees.

Research shows that when parents are involved with school staff, students earn higher grades, perform better on tests, and have better social skills and behavior, according to Mapp. There’s also a link to students finishing high school and heading to college.

Sandrock travels to national conferences to talk about Georgia’s efforts. She tells a story about a parent who received a visitor badge every time she went to her child’s school.

‘‘The problem is that I’m not a visitor. I’m a parent, and this is my school too,’’ Sandrock said.

An easy fix was to print badges labeled ‘‘parent’’ instead of ‘‘visitor.’’ Now, as teachers walk by, they may thank the parent for being involved, and the parent feels appreciated. It may seem minor, but Sandrock says there are endless small steps schools can take for a more welcoming environment.