My American Experience – part 4: Mingling and Mixing

Day 2 of the conference started with a visit to a High School. It was one of the things I was keen to do on my visit overseas so made sure that I signed up for it before I even got to the US. I boarded a coach with 18 other delegates and off we went on a short drive. Before long we arrived at the Duke Ellington School of Arts for our tour. On entering the school we were greeted by airport-like security. We had to put our belonging through a scanner and then walk through an arch to be scanned ourselves. It was all done very smoothly, and quite quickly we had all been processed and given the all clear.

We then gathered to hear the former Principal Chris Gray tell us all about the incredible building and the blood, sweat and tears that had gone into designing a facility especially for the advancement of the arts as part of a $162m design build partnership. We learned that the 600 students have pre professional training in 8 arts areas and the school has a 98% graduation rate with a 95% university acceptance rate. Pretty impressive stuff.

Whilst walking around the site I was blown away by the details. Lots of lovely pieces of art and impressive sculptures. I had the opportunity to ask so many questions and came away buzzing with information about the delivery of the arts curriculum but also the facilities too. It was an incredible school to visit and I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

As we took the tour we shared stories of our own facilities and how they compared. This continued on the coach ride back and it was really heartening to learn that colleagues from schools across the pond shared the same challenges. I began to feel the benefit of networking and speaking with as many different people as possible. With that in mind, on returning to the conference centre I headed to the conference planning session. I hadn’t previously intended to go to this however I had started to realise that my voice wasn’t any less valid or relevant than anyone else’s just because if was a U.K. voice.

The session was aimed at sharing ideas on what could be included in the 2020 ASBO conference. I joined a table that was looking at facilities management. Having spent 9 months without a permanent premises officer I had recently thrown myself into this area, only to realise I quite enjoyed it. We talked around how this could translate into educational sessions and what the expected learning outcomes could be. It was a useful experience, not least because it gave me the chance to meet with the ASBO lead for sustainability and really pick her brain about what she has done in her school district. (Sustainability is my thing at the moment).

So here I was, nearing the end of the afternoon on day 2, and I felt completely at ease in my new surroundings. It was great to mix and mingle with school business professionals from all over the US. I found it amazing hearing about the number of schools they take responsibility for in their school districts. Some were looking after budgets of $150m and dozens of schools. My £14m budget paled in comparison!

I booked myself onto education sessions on my own, confident in the knowledge that I’d get chatting to someone and expand my network. This is exactly what happened in the bite sized session for Excel tips and tricks. I quickly got chatting with two ladies from Washington (the proper state) and heard all about their experiences.

The day rounded up with dinner at a nearby Italian place with a new friend from Denver and a three others from Canada. Now for an extrovert like me I never in my wildest dreams thought things would play out this way. I had pictured quiet evenings in my room reflecting on the learning of the day. This turned out to be such a wonderful experience that I have gained from immensely. Not just professional development but personal development. I cannot recommend attendance at the conference highly enough. Just do it!

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