Workplace Spotlight: North East Independent School District
Published: August 16, 2018
Developing a worksite lactation program is a simple and inexpensive way to support employees who chose to breastfeed. Lactation support programs are good not only for your employees, but also good for your business. Implementing a policy can improve employee and family health, reduce healthcare costs, reduce sick-time and absenteeism, help retain experienced employees, and boost morale and productivity. For more information, please go to our website.
The North East Independent School District (North East ISD) serves the north central and northeast areas of Bexar County. It is the second largest school district in San Antonio with more than 67,000 students and over 8,700 personnel including over 4,200 teachers. 1.2 Last September, North East ISD received the Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite designation for 85 of their worksites.
Like many school districts, North East ISD has a large proportion of female staff. In an interview with Chyla Whitton, the Senior Director of HR Services with North East ISD, she recalled that many of their female employees who decided to take maternity leave after giving birth, often decided not to return to work. A common reason was the uncertainty of having worksite lactation support.
Noticing this trend, the district wanted to help make the return to work transition easier and less stressful on their employees. Chyla and Tammy Gomez, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for North East ISD, with the support of the North East ISD administration, worked diligently to put a formal lactation support policy into place. This policy would ensure that nursing employees have consistent access to worksite lactation provisions including their right to a flexible schedule to pump, a private space to express that is not a restroom, access to a clean water source and sink to wash parts, and access to hygienic breastmilk storage.
“We wanted to make sure that employees know that it’s not just a policy of the district, but that managers will actively support them and encourage them should continuing to breast milk feed [after returning to work] be the route they want to go. We want them to feel comfortable coming back to work,” said Chyla.
North East ISD publicly displays their lactation support program on their website and educates their managers with periodic training sessions to ensure a coordinated and consistent approach to their program across worksites. Chyla highlights how having an ADA Coordinator position helped during the implementation of a lactation support program. “We were working through several ADA accommodations while implementing our nursing mother initiative and having Tammy certainly helped.” Chyla said. “She truly was the one behind the initiative making sure that we worked with administrators to address any concerns or challenges head-on. Having that position in place really allowed us to fully implement a comprehensive program.”
To promote the program, North East ISD reaches out to new parent employees three to four weeks before they return from leave to inquire about their intentions regarding breastfeeding. Chyla remarked that, “For parents, having the option to be able to express at work has helped them make the decision to come back. Providing this support benefits our employees, their families, and our students. Our mission is to provide the best education to the students that attend our school district. Having present teachers is how we’re going to ensure they get the best education. All around it’s a win-win for us to know that we’re meeting the needs of our employees, our community, and their families as well.” If an employee does choose to pump at work when they return, North East ISD will work with them to ensure their needs are met whether that means helping them figure out an appropriate schedule, sharing helpful resources, or simply ensuring they feel supported.
North East ISD found it helpful to understand the perspective of managers and employees regarding provision of lactation support. Chyla recalls, “Tammy went out to our facilities to talk to them and think about how they could utilize different space to meet criteria so we could say we were at 100% [for lactation support compliance] at all our locations. While we have different layouts for our buildings, we were fortunately able to do that without much monetary expense.”
It was important to North East ISD executive leaders to consider the different types of positions they have and be willing to work out unique ways to ensure that coverage can be given to all their employees. For instance, the district continues to work with bus drivers to ensure that they are given coverage while on their scheduled routes - when it’s not always easy to step away. As Chyla pointed out, “Keeping good bus drivers is important, especially if they enjoy working for us. This might mean that we have the executive director for that department out driving a bus so the regular driver can take a pumping break.”
A notable challenge for North East ISD has been working to provide breaks for nursing teachers while ensuring that students are continuously supervised during class time. Reaching out to employees before they return to work and assessing what their needs may be has helped administrators do their best to plan for and provide employees with coverage. “Thankfully, communication between teachers and administration has been very open and encouraging,” said Chyla. The district also makes sure that teachers who need to attend off-campus training have a designated space set up for nursing mothers to use at those trainings.
North East ISD has reported seeing a boost in employee morale throughout their worksites since the implementation of their worksite lactation support program. “We’ve heard employees express appreciation for the program even if they aren’t nursing mothers.” As for expanding their provisions, the school district will continue to look for ways to improve their current program. For instance, they’re currently working on ways to expand their cache of online resources and advertise such resources to their employees.
For school districts that are looking to implement a lactation support program, Chyla reflects on her own experience to offer some advice. “We worked to provide education at all levels. We thought about how our program would impact not only to our employees but also our managers. It was also important to think about all who would be impacted and take into account all the different types of employees positions that they hold and how we planned to support our managers to meet the needs of [nursing] employees, regardless of their role in our district. Overall, just know that it’s possible and it’s a small thing you can do to make a big difference in your employees’ ability to perform and feel like they are meeting the needs of both their family and their job.”
North East ISD’s lactation support program is one example of how an employer and, more specifically, a school district can demonstrate dedication to employees and their families. Implementing worksite lactation support policies and programs help employees with young children reach their personal breastfeeding goals.
The Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite Program is here to assist Texas businesses with planning and developing a worksite lactation support policy and program. If you have any questions or are interested in becoming designated as a Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Claire Adkins, Graduate Assistant for TMFW-TASP
Photos provided by: North East ISD