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Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools - Past and Future - Process Cleaning for Healthy Facilities™
Healthy Facilities™

Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools - Past and Future

By PC4HS Staff


ISO 9000 is a family of standards for quality management systems maintained by the International Organization for Standardization. An ISO 9001 certification is a highly respected achievement, sought by many and achieved by few.

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) in Reno, Nevada, the 127th largest school district in the country, with almost 68,000 students and 9,000 staff, is one of an elite few districts in the country to have achieved ISO 9001 certification, thanks in large part to the successful implementation of a program known as Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS).

Rex Morrison, designer of the Process Cleaning program at Washoe and founder of the non-profit Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) Consortium comments on the early days of Process Cleaning at Washoe Schools:

"At that time, in Washoe County there were about 450 custodians. That meant there were 450 ways we cleaned a restroom," Morrison said. "We had no management, no base system in place, no ability to direct and manage inventory, nothing. All things have to start with a standard, and we didn’t have a standard."

Looking for a solution to this downward spiral, Morrison approached the principal of the elementary school where he was head custodian, and asked her for something a bit out of the ordinary.

"I said to her, 'I want to go on nights for 60 days. I really want to take a look at what I've learned from every system out there, and I want to apply the study of time and motion to the cleaning process; I want to come up with a good way to clean my school,'" he said.

His principal agreed. Working the night shift with two other custodians, Morrison took best practices - tools and philosophies - and put them in place; one of which was “take the tool to the job, not the job to the tool.”

"Traditionally, custodians push a big cart down the hallway. They park it at each room, they go in, they grab the trash container, take it to the receptacle, dump it and put it back in the classroom," Morrison said. "In and out, back and forth; all this walking. If we’re going to clean classrooms, I want a tool that's light and mobile enough to take it completely around that classroom. That's taking the tool to the job, not the job to the tool."

Applying that philosophy to the entire cleaning process, Morrison started to refine his approach. After much trial and error he determined that the best way to clean was to have a system where certain steps would be carefully sequenced to optimize productivity and outcomes without straining the workers.

"Over time, our average time to clean a classroom was down to six minutes. Most custodians could accomplish that task in about four minutes. But Process Cleaning is built around an average speed," Morrison said. "I spent about two years with a stopwatch around my neck; they used to call me the time policeman. There's not a single part of Process Cleaning that has not been timed out and averaged. It's not about working fast, it's about working thoroughly, with a real plan in front of you and not deviating from that plan.

"When we clean, we clean for health," he said. "We don’t worry about appearance; when you clean for health, appearance will follow."

Cleaning starts in the classroom. "Once we start the cleaning process, we don’t deviate from that primary process until that project is done," Morrison said. "Once all the rooms are clean, we take the primary cart and set it up for the next day. The key is to set it up with just enough supplies and equipment to last one cleaning shift. Think of it like hiking or backpacking: you want to keep your equipment to just what you need, keep it light and not overload yourself unnecessarily.

"Every custodian in the Washoe County Schools, when they're hired, is trained in this process. So every custodian knows what a primary cart looks like and how it functions, so they can simply grab it and go to work, repeating the same process that the regular custodian performs, no matter what school they might find themselves working at," he said. "This way, you’re never going have much variance in the quality of work from one custodian to the next."

Process Cleaning operates from two basic principles: one is a map of the area, the other is a Service Assessment Log. The map is divided into five parts (Monday-Friday), with each part color-coded to match a certain deep cleaning day: Monday is blue, Tuesday is red and so on.

On arrival, the custodian's first duty is to check the map. Routine Process Cleaning is done every day; the colored areas are those that get deep or detail cleaning performed corresponding to that particular day.

Using the Service Assessment Log, the custodian checks off the designated deep cleaning actions as they are performed. In the morning, the custodial supervisor checks the map to see which area should have received deep cleaning. She checks the Service Assessment Log to see what items have been checked off, and knows what was done and where. She doesn't have to go through the entire building; she checks a few classrooms to check that the deep cleaning was performed, as well as confirming that routine Process Cleaning was performed.

"It's a simple, beautiful way to clean a classroom," Morrison said. "My approach has always been to keep it simple, and when I err, I always err on the side of the custodian. Combining those two philosophies into this program has made it fair or just. It's a respectful approach to cleaning."

When he first began to implement the system, there were some challenges. "Change is hard for everyone. Getting people to buy into a new philosophy, a new approach, takes time and hard work," Morrison said. "You need the school board behind you. I met with the teachers' union, the custodians' union. I explained what Process Cleaning is, what we hoped to accomplish, and what protections we had in place for custodians. We reduced our staff by over 12 percent, and we did it through attrition; not a single custodian lost his job.

"Process Cleaning was developed by custodians, a system designed specifically around K-12 environments," he said. "It's schools helping schools."


In today's economic reality, it's also about the money. Word has gotten around about the Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) program and other schools want to know how to do it. Morrison consults for other districts with the support of the PC4HS Consortium. "Five months ago we went to a district, set up Process Cleaning in that district and have to this point saved them $280,000," Morrison said. "We had a meeting just last week to discuss implementing Process Cleaning in another district. I don't believe there's a properly staffed school district in the country that we can't bring Process Cleaning to and save them money.

"Eighty-seven percent of all expenditure for most school districts – say 80 percent just to be safe – is spent on labor," he said. "To save labor you have to adopt new technologies and new processes. You're not going to move one step faster, one step harder or one pace quicker; you let the machines, chemicals and innovations do that for you."