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Her Purpose Is Potential

Daycroft’s Head of School, Diane Mukkala, Finds Time to Lend Her Guiding Hand to Saline Community Groups

ANN ARBOR, MI (January 12, 2009) – Nearly two decades ago, Diane Mukkala came to grasp her purpose in life: "I’m here to help individuals, groups, and organizations reach their potential," she says.

diane mukkala

By day, the Pittsfield Township resident is the head of Daycroft Montessori School, one of Washtenaw County’s leading independent preprimary and elementary schools. What Mukkala speaks of as her personal purpose can also be found in Daycroft’s own stated mission: The school aims to "provide a highly personalized learning environment that fully appreciates individual differences, nurtures the whole child, and enables students to develop at their own pace and achieve to their full potential" (emphasis added).

At home, Mukkala has an active young family, with every member involved in the community. She and her husband Ben Mukkala are raising two sons, Daniel and Matthew, who are both Daycroft students. She also volunteers at her church and has coached youth soccer and baseball in the Saline area.

Yet for all the demands these home and professional roles place on her, Mukkala still finds time to serve as a valued behind-the-scenes advisor to some of Saline’s most prominent community groups. Recently she has applied her expertise in organizational development to help steer strategic planning initiatives for the Friends of the Saline District Library, the Saline Area Historical Society, and the Saline Area Senior Center.

With Mukkala facilitating the planning process, these organizations have gained better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The outcome for each group has been to create a shared vision and a sustainable plan for the future. That’s not all that Mukkala does for Saline community groups. This April, she will again lead the two-day retreat to kick off the annual Saline Leadership Institute and its schedule of 10 sessions for 2009. It will be the fourth time in SLI’s 12-year history that Mukkala has contributed to the program in this way.

Leading the Daycroft Difference

diane mukkala reading to kids

In her "day job," Mukkala manages Daycroft’s two Ann Arbor-area educational facilities: the preprimary campus (preschool and kindergarten) at 1000 East Oakbrook Drive, and the elementary campus (kindergaten through 6th grade) at 1095 North Zeeb Road.

Per Mukkala, Daycroft blends the distinctive student-centered approach of Maria Montessori with traditional and progressive teaching methods. Education at Daycroft is characterized by an individualized learning plan continually updated for each child. The school also offers a balance between teacher direction and student choice, low student-to-teacher ratios, multiple ages in classrooms, and cultural diversity.

"Parents especially appreciate the individualized attention their children receive at Daycroft," says Mukkala. "We have two head teachers per classroom at the elementary level, and a head teacher plus a full-time teaching assistant in each preprimary classroom. Teachers guide students, but it’s the students themselves who take responsibility and are accountable for their learning. The results are exceptional."

Organizational Development

Before becoming Daycroft’s head of school late in 2006, Mukkala owned and operated DBM & Associates, a consultant to U.S. and international organizations. The firm specialized in strategic planning, reorganizations and mergers, managing change, process improvement, team building, and leadership development.

Mukkala’s clients at DBM & Associates included the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies (FISITA); the U.S. Car Consortium of Ford, General Motors, and the National Laboratories; GM’s Global Powertrain Group; Textron Automotive Group; the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE); and the State of Michigan’s Departments of Agriculture and Public Health.

Mukkala has also advised three Michigan Intermediate School Districts (Bay-Arenac, Ingham, and Shiawassee), Lansing Community College, and Saline’s City Council.

From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, Mukkala worked in organizational research, planning, and development for divisions of General Motors. Just prior to that, she developed Quality Work Life guidelines for the UAW/GM Human Resources Center. She also investigated unfair labor practices for the National Labor Relations Board.

A Working Education

Mukkala earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Michigan in 1981, and a master’s degree in industrial relations from Wayne State University in 1984. While pursuing these degrees, she worked for Ford Motor Company on the line in the Dearborn Assembly Plant. There she gained extensive knowledge and experience in material control, production, vehicle scheduling, and specifications audits.

And this only begins to catalogue Mukkala’s professional and educational achievements. She was the first woman to serve as a vice president and executive board member for FISITA, she is a founding member and former treasurer of the Rebellious Dreamers Foundation, she completed a graduate advance program in organizational development from Columbia University in 1992, and she has addressed audiences on organizational development issues at national conferences and Michigan colleges.

Mukkala is also certified to conduct training in the Cambridge Planned Change Agent, Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Zinger-Miller Frontline Leadership programs.

Her Path Takes a Turn

"After more than 25 years in the auto companies and organizational consulting, I never expected to lead a school," says Mukkala. "But now it almost feels like destiny."

Mukkala was serving as president of Daycroft’s board of trustees when she stepped in as the head of school on an interim basis in December 2006. Within months, Daycroft teachers and parents were asking Mukkala if she would stay on permanently. Soon the school’s search committee made a formal offer. "In the Mukkala home," she says, "we make decisions as a family. This was the quickest decision we ever made. Leading Daycroft in its educational mission is an honor and a privilege. I can hardly imagine a more important and personally rewarding role."

In a sign of her dedication, Mukkala quickly caught up to speed on the under-the-hood mechanics of Montessori-style educational methods and earned certification from the Adrian Dominican Montessori Teacher Education Institute in May 2008.

Commitment to Community

With so busy a life, it is understandable that Mukkala now limits her outside consulting in strategic planning to Saline community groups. "There’s something special going on in Saline," she says. "People here are so committed to building a better community. Everyone brings their own perspectives to the table, but they’re consistently willing to put aside the occasional disagreements and work for the betterment of the whole. It has been relatively easy to arrive at a vision, reach consensus, and move ahead."

Mukkala adds, "Every Saline group I’ve worked with has shown an exceptional commitment to fully implement the plans we’ve developed. It’s exciting to see people take on specific goals and follow through on their action items."

As exemplars of committed community group leaders, Mukkala points to John Clark, board president, and Rina Chemin, director, of the Saline Area Senior Center. Another is Jaana Terhune, who heads the board of directors of the Friends of the Saline District Library. "Excuse the cliche," says Mukkala, "but these folks don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. They do what it takes to drive their organizations ahead."

Mukkala has also enjoyed working with David Rhoads, a Saline City Council member and the owner and president of Homeowner Services of America, Inc. (HSA), a Saline-based home remodeling firm. Mukkala got to know Rhoads while advising the Saline Area Historical Society and the Saline Area Senior Center, where he serves on the boards. Rhoads also interacts with Mukkala as an SLI facilitator.

"Diane does an excellent job of keeping a group focused on the task at hand," Rhoads says. "She’s not judgmental, and she assures that all participants have equal opportunity to provide input. She also draws out those who may at first hesitate to contribute. I’ve seen how Diane can help any organization – non-profit, governmental, civic, or private."

From Process to Potential

Mukkala describes herself as a "process consultant." She explains, "Basically, I lead each group through three stages of their own thinking. First I help them agree on the need for organizational change. Then I guide the group as they work collaboratively to create a shared vision for the organization. Finally, we lay out a specific action plan."

How Mukkala works with Saline community groups is not unlike the day-to-day, children-centered approach to preprimary and elementary education at Daycroft. She explains, "I lead the process, but ultimately it’s the group members themselves who work out the plan and take ownership of carrying it out. That’s how great results happen."

Whether in leading the educational effort at Daycroft Montessori School, or in helping Saline community groups chart their courses for the future, for Diane Mukkala it all comes down to the same basic purpose: helping people achieve to their full potential.

"The fact is that everyone wants to learn and grow," she says. "I just help them get there."

About Daycroft Montessori School

Daycroft Montessori School is one of Washtenaw County’s leading independent schools. It began as a preschool program in 1968. Since then, Daycroft has grown to include a full-day kindergarten program, an elementary school program through 6th grade, before-school and after-school care, summer camp programs, and enrichment classes.

Daycroft Elementary School (grades K through 6) and Daycroft’s administrative offices are located at 1095 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103. Phone: (734) 662-3335.

Daycroft Preprimary School (preschool and kindergarten) is at 100 E. Oakbrook Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Phone: (734) 930-0333.


Media Contact:
Chris Kochmanski
DesignHub, Inc.
(734) 944-8705

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