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A Wisconsin School District's Lean Route to Improving Student Literacy

by Holly Prast

Dr. Robert Mayfield, Kimberly Area School District (Kimberly) superintendent, sees a dramatic change in the way district teachers now approach literacy instruction from two years ago. Where isolation and independence were once the hallmarks of teacher preparation in Kimberly, teachers now regularly work together to give students what they need, when they need it. 

Kimberly Area School District Rapid Improvement Team

 The Kimberly Area School District rapid improvement event team of teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators in May 2014.

Case Study At a Glance . . .

Kimberly Area School District's Lean Route to Improving Student Literacy

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-With student literacy scores becoming stagnant, Kimberly Area School District (Kimberly) teachers used lean tools to address one of the most complex issues facing teachers.

-As a result of standard work created by teachers, the culture within school buildings changed from independent to collaborative.

-Upon employing standard work around planning and instruction, Kimberly’s literacy results improved dramatically.

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About Kimberly Area School District

Located in central Wisconsin, Kimberly Area School District is about 30 miles from the city of Green Bay. With a staff of more than 500 professionals, the district serves more than 5,000 students in four elementary schools (4K–grade 4), two intermediate schools (5–6), one middle school (7–8), one charter school (8–12), and one high school (9–12). The district has earned numerous academic and co-curricular awards including Kimberly High being named three times as one of America’s Top High Schools by Newsweek.

Why Lean?

Flatlining school district achievement scores, as seen in Figure 1, prompted a rapid improvement event (RIE) in the spring 2013. Despite boasting the best student achievement scores among districts within a 50-mile radius, it was clear to staff that proficiency rates had not improved over time. When compared to other, non-neighboring school districts of similar socio-economic student enrollment, as seen in Figure 2, staff could see that while Kimberly was the best among schools in the immediate area, it had ground to make up in the state rankings.

KASD Case Study Figures 1 and 2

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Like many states in 2012, Wisconsin announced a number of mandates as part of a waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. As a result, the district would now be required to implement a new teacher evaluation system. Teachers were required to write, and be held accountable to, student learning objectives (SLOs)—measurable, student-centered achievement goals.

In addition to the waiver measures, the district at the time was also implementing new curriculum standards, preparing for a new state test, and introducing a new student information computer system. These mandates and innovations left the district scrambling for resources. Kimberly’s approach to the drastic changes included exploring how lean principles could address new initiatives in an efficient, yet effective, way.

Knowing Kimberly student achievement scores had grown stagnant, administrators contemplated how lean principles could improve literacy. It was a lean tool that helped administrators clearly identify the issue. A SIPOC diagram examines the suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers of a problem. Flowing out the process of literacy instruction led the team to Kimberly’s problem:

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The Balanced Literacy Model is a way of designing literacy instruction. It consists of eight different instructional strategies teachers use to teach. Kimberly had previously designated the amount of time teachers were to spend on each component. That worked well in the past, but teachers were starting to express how these scripted time requirements were not necessarily meeting the needs of the students.

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About the Author 

Dr. Holly Prast is the assistant superintendent of the Kimberly Area School District. In her 15 years as a school administrator, Prast has worked extensively in the areas of leadership development and school improvement. She received her Ph.D. from Cardinal Stritch University in March 2014. Her dissertation on academic community partnerships was the foundation for her book, Community-Based Learning: Awakening the Mission of Public Schools (Corwin Publishing, 2015).

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