It’s time for another Together Talk!
So far, you’ve met a district superintendent and a principal turned doctoral student. And today I’m featuring someone from the non-instructional side of the house — Kahlmus E., the Senior Director of Operations for Aspire Public Schools in Memphis!
I was interested in speaking with Kahlmus because he made the shift into education after starting his career as a consultant. Additionally, I often hear from operations folks how striking a balance between proactive and reactive work is hard to get just right – but oh so important.
Maia: What are your main responsibilities as Aspire’s Senior Director of Operations?
Kahlmus: My work varies greatly from day to day, as the world of operations tends to be “jack-of-all-trades.” But it includes growth planning for regional sustainability; coordination of key school support contracts (transportation, food services, facility maintenance and repair, etc.); supporting our front office staff to ensure financial and operational compliance; and coordinating with our district authorizers.
Maia: What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work each morning?
Kahlmus: Check and respond to email. I have the first 30 minutes of each day set aside to respond to emails from the previous day. I also schedule three 15-minute blocks throughout the day to respond to emails that come in.
Maia: In operations, a ton of last minute or unexpected issues arise. What do you do when something throws off your plan? How do you regroup?
Kahlmus: This happens almost daily, so I’ve learned to expect it. Each day, I set aside work blocks of time on my calendar that list the tasks I’m hoping to accomplish. When something throws them off, I make adjustments (either to the focus of the time or the duration) in order to stay on track as best as possible.
Last Friday, I planned to use one of my work blocks to finalize a facility walkthrough template. However, on that day, one of the business managers needed support in meeting a state deadline, so I devoted the time to helping her troubleshoot instead. I moved the template work to another work block, which was originally planned for me to complete pre-work for a conference. So I’ll switch that to some upcoming travel time I have on a plane—which I usually use for crosswords or sleeping! This type of adjustment is typical. If I can’t find time during one of the already scheduled work blocks, I’ll use an evening (or early morning) to “catch up.”
Maia: How do you set expectations and model Togetherness for others?
Kahlmus: I always try to set clear deadlines (specific days and times) for when items should be completed and engage others in conversation around the feasibility of those (i.e. “Is there anything on your plate right now that you think may prevent you from meeting this deadline or that may need to be adjusted in order for you to do so?”). I am also really strict about not sending emails outside of normal business hours (delayed delivery is a wonderful tool!) in an effort to support work/life balance.
Maia: What is your favorite organization tool and why?
Kahlmus: My Outlook calendar is my best friend. It regularly and reliably reminds me what I plan to do each day, and it’s portable and easy to update.
Maia: What Togetherness battle have you stopped fighting?
Kahlmus: I’ve leaned into my natural digital tendencies. I’ve also given up on trying to keep my inbox below a certain threshold each day. I’m now on more of a weekly cleanout cycle.