Have you ever read the Blueberry Story by Jamie Vollmer? Back in 1988, Mr. Vollmer was the manager of a manufacturing firm called The Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company. This company had become quite famous for having the best ice cream in America, especially their blueberry ice cream! Due to his successful management style, Mr. Vollmer was asked to sit in on many roundtable discussions that were formed to make recommendations for improving Iowa schools. Over time, he had participated in dozens of roundtables, spoke on TV, radio, and wrote several Opt-Ed pieces all about the business gospel of school reform. He received standing ovations at every stop, yet he did not manage to make or inspire a single improvement in Iowa’s schools…yet he still continued on his journey of this business model for school reform.
Mr. Vollmer visited hundreds of schools, stood on hundreds of stages, and talked to tens of thousands of teachers, administrators, board members, support staff, foundation members, business and community members, and parent groups. It was not until a snowy day on January 1991, that he finally understood that something was not working like he felt it should.
It happened at the last high school where he would give his business approach to reforming schools. His first sentence was, “This is a talk about change.” He went on to talk about why his ice cream company was so successful and that if the schools could only learn from them, they would see success in their students. He ended with a statement of not being in business if he ran his company like we ran our schools. You could hear a pin drop. Now time for the Q & A.
A high school English teacher stood up to address Mr. Vollmer with questions. She asked him questions about his company and how they surely used Grade A ingredients to get the very best flavor.
Mr. Vollmer nodded emphatically. “At the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company, our specifications to our suppliers is triple A.”
She asked what their policy was when blueberries arrived at their receiving dock that did not match their triple A standards.
He smugly said, “We send them back!” Again…the pin drop.
Then the high school English teacher stood tall and said, “That’s right! You send them back. We can never send back the blueberries our suppliers send us. We take them big, small, rich, poor, hungry, abused, confident, curious, homeless, frightened, rude, creative, violent, and brilliant. We take them of every race, religion, and ethnic background. We take them with head lice, ADHD, and advanced asthma. We take them with juvenile rheumatoid, English as a second language, and who knows how much lead in their veins. We take them all, Mr. Vollmer! Every one! And that’s why it’s not a business. It’s a school!”
Mr. Vollmer’s world changed that very afternoon. This high school teacher challenged his simplistic, business arguments armed with nothing more than the knowledge born of her daily experience. And it is a daily experience worth doing.
We will proudly continue to give everything we’ve got to give every blueberry the chance to live a Grade A life!