How a Little Junior High Stole the Profits from a National Portrait Chain
An industry disruption that sparked, then fizzled for lack of school district courage
These days it seems teachers are always begging for money. As a classroom teacher, I was the biggest benefactor of my own program. My personal philosophy was: This is my career, and I’m not planning to spend my entire career just getting by with the school district’s miserly resources. My wife spent 36 years as a kindergarten teacher at a neighboring school district but shared the same experience. We decided that money spent on our classrooms was an investment in our careers. The first thirteen years of my career I taught in elementary school, the last seven in junior high.
It was the transition from elementary school to Marsh Junior High where I encountered the best boss I would ever have, the Marsh principal, Jeff Sloan. Jeff met every problem with a smile. He ran concise staff meetings that never wasted your time. By the second week of school, Jeff could walk the halls, calling every student by name, all six hundred of them. If you needed additional classroom funds, Jeff had one answer. If it’s good for kids, we will find a way. And he did. After my first semester at Marsh, I just wanted to be part of the team. That says a lot coming from me, as I typically go my own way.
I’ve always considered myself an idea guy. But working with Jeff, I was happy to take on the role of facilitator. One day he came into my classroom, right in the middle of a lesson. I could read the excitement in his eyes as he walked through the door. He excused himself to the class, stepped up to me, and whispered, “Why don’t we take our own school photos?” He was referring to taking back a program ceded corporate America. I’ll call them Photo Corp, the school portrait giant who descended on our school twice a year to snap the kid’s pics, I knew exactly what he meant. My immediate answer (well because Jeff…was well…Jeff), “I don’t know, but give me a week and I’ll find out.”
First I focused on economics. I examined the cost of the photo packages sold to our parents by Photo Corp. Then I looked into photo printing prices offered at Costco. Along the way, I learned that…