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The Blueberry Story- you have to read it!!!


Date: Tue Jun 25 2002 - 09:40:21 PDT

Thought I would share this with you- it's priceless!!
Sara in NC

The Blueberry Story
by Jamie Robert Vollmer

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming
angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90
minutes of in-service training. Their initial icy glares had
turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife. I
represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools.
I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the
middle-1980s when People Magazine chose its blueberry flavour as the "Best
Ice Cream in America."

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they
were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the Industrial Age
and out of step with the needs of our emerging "knowledge society."

Second, educators were a major part of the problem: They resisted change,
hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a
bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to
produce quality. Zero defects! Total Quality Management! Continuous

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced--equal parts ignorance and
arrogance. As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared
polite, pleasant.

She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran high school English teacher who had
been waiting to unload. She began quietly, "We are told, sir, that you manage
a company that makes good ice cream."

I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, ma'am."

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"

"Sixteen per cent butterfat," I crowed.

"Premium ingredients?" she inquired.

"Super-premium! Nothing but triple-A." I was on a roll. I never saw the next
line coming.

"Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the
sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior
shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?"

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I was dead meat, but
I wasn't going to lie. "I send them back."

"That's right," she barked, "and we can never send back our blueberries. We
take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, confident,
homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their
second language. We take them all. Every one. And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why
it's not a business. It's school."

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides,
custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah!
Blueberries! Blueberries!"

And so began my long transformation. Since then, I have visited hundreds of
schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable
to control the quality of their raw material; they are dependent
upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are
constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups
that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.