Are Super Stars the Answer for Quality After School Programs?
boy yelling through tube photo

In an earlier post, I gave away the secret to a fabulous after school or camp program.

For free.

Hire Decent People and Have Interesting Things to Do

Whoops! Gave it away again. I am such blabber-mouth. Sigh.

Oh, well.

Let’s talk a little about the “hiring decent people” part.

This means the hiring and retention of normal, highly reliable and actively participating program staff. Please notice, I said normal.

This means they do not have to have the charisma of Oprah Winfrey or the leadership skills of Hillary Clinton or the passion of any of the characters from the “Twilight” book/movie series.


Staff members should be nice, regular people who like kids well enough and show up day after day (that would be the highly reliable part) to actively participate, supervise and empower children to participate in a wide variety of activities.

Again: You don’t have to have super star staff to have a five-star after school program.

Obviously super stars are very nice to have on board! And by all means, try to recruit as many as you can bribe, bamboozle and blackmail onto your payroll. But they cannot be the center of your program quality efforts and metrics.

I believe very strongly in the following statement:

You will damage your program if you orient your program’s achievement of high quality and success around the necessity of having super star staff.

Let’s consider my reasons this is pretty much true.

First, by definition super stars are an unusual condition and therefore numerically rare.

Second, let’s face it, not only are they relatively rare, there are also only so many super stars you can get on-board in the first place. In reality every leader can’t be a super-star. [No, really. They can't. Think about it. It's the Lake Woebegone issue a la the blacktop.]

Thirdly, now throw in the limited or insane hours (it’s always feast or famine on this point…work ‘em to death or only part-time), weaselly pay, and high responsibility factor that goes with after school or camp leadership.

Nextly, and this point is a little difficult for us all to admit to…but I’m gonna be brave and cop to it. Sometimes super star staff are a lot of work! Now picture a constellation of them. Ack! I will let you fill in all the ways this can be true.

And lastly, let’s just consider the not-insignificant point that anyone who has their act together enough to actually be a super star in our high-pressure, creative, dynamic and mission critical world…can pretty much be a super-star in ANY other field. We often see the fast moving and receding square of their backs as they zoom off to top-notch grad schools, sophisticated adventures around the globe, higher leadership positions, and simply better paying jobs.

Yah. So, be happy with what you’ve got, eh?

And that’s fine.

The problem comes in right about here though. That little earnest seriously do-gooder voice that creeps in just when you’re telling yourself to be sensible. Especially about having super stars on your staff.

“But I really, really want to have an awesome program for all of my students and campers. All the time. As a regular feature! Not just the few who luck out with getting the super star this particular activity, day or week. So how do I make THAT happen?!”

And now we return to the first half of the secret to crafting a high quality program…

Design your after school program* to be reliably successful with use of decent people. Be diligent and intentional in your hiring as a result.

*(or camp, museum, classroom, juvenile justice program or whatever)

What are your experiences with hiring the super stars and the normal? Are you madly in love with your super star staff and say fie on me for suggesting anything else? Or are you cheered to think that high quality is completely plausible with the staff on hand? (assuming no actual clunkers; you are documenting and moving those along, right?)

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