ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - January 2000
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Issue Highlight - Y2K, Oh
-- "At 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000 we both breathed a sigh of relief and simultaneously attended a coronation...The coronation may have been more significant than the relief."

In This Issue...
Elementary TQM
Workplace Humor
Games at Work
Merger Mania
Boosting Capacity

Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Pageturners
Briefcases
The Quality Tool
---- I Never Use

Diary of a Shutdown

 

An Elementary Lesson In TQM
Grade School Uses Baldrige to Create High Performing Workforce

--Visiting Azalea Elementary School, in St. Petersburg, Fla. would provide valuable insight to businesses searching for a final reason to empower employees. Gone are the traditional classrooms with desks in perfect rows and teachers following prescribed lesson plans, rather, each student is a worker in a high-performing workforce. Everyone from the teachers to the cafeteria staff are committed to the vision of making Azalea a world-class benchmark for higher education achievement.
-- Azalea is not an elite, suburban school; in fact it is the 21st largest public school district in the nation. Azalea's demographics present another challenge, with a 40 percent mobility rate; only two out of five students spend an entire year there. In addition, 25 percent of students require special education because they are emotionally challenged, have speech/communication disabilities or suffer from autism. Azalea has overcome these challenges and then some. Student test scores have increased by 20 percent in two years. And Pinellas County School is the only district in Florida to ever have won the State's Sterling Quality Award.
-- Clark has been a leader in transforming Azalea from a teaching to a learning institution. She will appear at AQP's 22nd Annual Spring Conference and Resource Mart, March 27-29, in Orlando Fla. She joins keynoters Ken Blanchard, Richard Teerlink, former CEO of Harley-Davidson, Joel Barker, Patch Adams, M.D. and Meg Wheatley. For additional information or to register call 1-800-733-3310.
-- News for a Change Editor, Bill Brewer, recently spoke with Clark about adapting the Baldrige criteria in an effort to increase academic performance.


NFC: The mission of Azalea Elementary School is that every child should be able to answer the question, why are you here today and what are your personal goals?

Clark: Our mission has changed. We have moved in to the next iteration. We spent four years driving that mission with the children. We created an environment that would support kids to understand what their job is, why they come to school and what they're responsible for. We've moved into our new mission which is, "A high-performing workforce produces a high-performing workforce." We have just killed ourselves, training everyone from the cafeteria people and teachers to the office people, to produce a high-performing workforce. That is because, we are now focusing on-what do these kids need when they leave us? They need to understand they are the citizens of tomorrow and they will be the high-performing workforce of tomorrow.

NFC: How did you formulate that first mission? Did the school board mandate it? Or was it your own idea?

Clark: We started looking at the Baldrige criteria and the quality movement. The basis for the Baldrige categories in leadership is to have a clear vision and mission. After a few of us went to some training in 1993, we inherently knew we had to create a clear mission. We started experimenting with it in the classrooms. Some of the teachers said, "What are you doing?" and, "This is interesting." Finally, a number of staff members came to me and said, "We all need that training." So I called the district and said, "I want to do a retreat for my group this summer. They're willing to pay for it on their own time. Will you give me the trainers?" They agreed to do that. We went away for three days and, on the third day of training, we created our vision and our mission. Every year, I would say, "Okay, is it time to revisit this? Do you still think it serves us well?" Finally, in August of last year, they said, "It really does need to be looked at." So, we changed the vision and our mission.

NFC: One of the Baldrige criteria is customer focus. Who are the customers for Azalea Elementary?

Clark: Customers for us are the district middle schools that we feed into. We have to send kids who are prepared for middle school. Our kids ought to be the highest-performing kids in the each of the middle schools that we feed into. We should be meeting the district expectations of the kids at that grade level. My definition is that those kids absolutely will meet those expectations by sixth grade. Traditionally, you ask any teacher, who hasn't had any dealings with Baldrige, "Who are your customers?" and they immediately say, "The kids and the parents." Kids are not the customers; kids are the workers. We don't look at them as the customers. We look at them as coming to work and doing a job. The parents will shift in and out of that customer thing. Sometimes they are the customers and sometimes they are not. Ultimately, who is our hard-core customer? It is the next grade level.

NFC: If the middle schools are your customers, what continuous feedback system from the customer have you established?

Clark: We track the academic data of our kids. We don't track them if they leave the middle school. We are tracking those kids who stay at the middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth grade. We see how they do throughout that time. We're looking at their academic performance. Were they able to hold on to the performance level we saw at Azalea Elementary School? When they left us, at or above their grade level, did they hold on to that level? The first group we started tracking is now in tenth grade. All of those kids are doing quite well. Our kids hold the highest grade point average of any of the six feeder schools going into the middle school.

NFC: Being a cynic, I could say, "But you just had brighter kids to begin with, because there is an innate intelligence." However, based on the data, that's not true. For example, 25 percent of your students have emotional handicaps?

Clark: Yes, 25 percent of the students are special education, 56 percent free lunch and 40 percent mobility. We don't have a single Lexus that drives through to pick-up students.

NFC: I guess this points to how much better other schools could be doing?

Clark: Exactly. When people really take this stuff to heart and start trying to do it, kids start achieving. Think about it-you've got a teacher who looks at the data about her kids and about her grade level. She makes really good curriculum decisions based on hard data about what would meet the academic needs of the kids. Then, she shares the decisions with the kids, tells them where they are and where they need to go. She defines the expectations, and then says, "Okay kids, how can we best get there? What should we do?" She gets total approval from these 28 little bodies who know where they are, know what they need to do, and understand what the purpose of being there is.

NFC: And you'll do this with a classroom of first-graders?

Clark: We do it with three and four-year olds. Those kids have goals. We post their data and they understand the data. Kids don't have any pre-set notion of what school is. My feeling is that the reason we have so many discipline problems now is that we're still trying to get kids to comply to an assembly line. They are living in the world of information and their education is not. There is a complete disconnection. We whip them into what we want them to do. This is an education that is designed for producing kids that go work on assembly lines. Well, I'm sorry, assembly lines aren't around any longer. Kids don't have that mentality. By using the Baldrige criteria, we're empowering kids to take hold of their education and their ticket to tomorrow. The grade book and the plan book aren't a secret. They are part of the classroom and, in a sense, the kids take care of it. The teacher is just a facilitator. We've empowered a group of these kids to make something of themselves, rather than - you sit there and for six hours while I regurgitate all this information. Friday, I will test you on it and you sure better know it.

NFC: I just had this conversation in a college classroom filled with seniors taking a capstone course in public relations. I said, "Here is the syllabus and the course as I have designed it or you can design the course base on what you want to learn." The entire class without much thought chose to do what I had already laid out. But if I had students from Azalea, ten years from now...

Clark: They wouldn't do it. They'd say, "Well, this is good, but can we talk about what we want to do? We'll think about your stuff." Kids tell me all of the time, "Miss Clark, we want you to come down to our classroom. We're working on a homework system. Would you come down and talk with us about it?" Every time, the kids will say to me, "We might not listen to you, you're a resource." They let me know upfront that I'm not coming in there to be the principal; I'm coming to be a resource.

NFC: But their ultimate job, as the worker at this elementary school, is to be prepared to meet the challenges of the workplace/middle school?

Clark: Not only that, we tell them they have to meet the challenges of the job. We tell what the challenges are and what businesses are looking for.

NFC: Even in first grade?

Clark: Yes, you're working in teams and you're creating synergy in your classroom. This is the way businesses work. Engineers across the street at Raytheon work in groups. We get a lot of volunteers from Raytheon. We want them to talk to kids about how they use quality tools and quality applications in their jobs. Kids hear the volunteers and realize we're doing that at Azalea Elementary.

NFC: No students are retained? But yet, children leaving second grade have to perform at or above grade level based on the state requirements.

Clark: Our mantra is that all kids will be at or above grade level in reading, writing and math by the time they exit second grade. And we targeted that because there are so many developmental stages between K1 and 2, that retention policies will cause you to retain kids and it could clearly be just a developmental state that that kid hasn't gotten to yet. So we said, "We're going to say that by the end of second grade all of them are going to be at or above grade level in reading, writing, and math and we are not going to retain any of them during that period of time because that is pointless." It could be developmental. If we get a kid in, in March of second grade, and that kid is behind a grade level, and we know that there is a third grade teacher that could take that kid, and we could have that kid go to second grade reading group, and define that education for that kid. And we may do that, because we've got really hard data showing that retention does nothing. Ok, you finish one complete year of your job, and you weren't too successful, is it going to do you any good to go back and do that year over? No, it's not going to do you any good to do that entire year over. You've got to figure out, what is missing with this kid? And where did the system fail this kid? And what can we do to change the system to meet the kid's needs? And that is totally different from what education is founded on. Education is founded on the premise that if the kid fails, it's the kid's fault. And so we found everything we do here on, if the kid fails, then there's something wrong with the system. It's not the teacher. It's not the kid, something's wrong with the system that we've built, and so we have to figure out how can we do it differently to meet the needs of those people?

NFC: Can you talk about involving the kitchen staff? What is their mission or goals?

Clark: This past year, when we did the school improvement plan, we based it on feedback from the Sterling Award in the state of Florida. We identified the gaps for our school and for our organization. We brainstormed the pieces of data that we would need to track - to know whether we were making progress toward improving those areas. Well, we ended with 89 pieces of data that we needed to track in order to ensure that we were achieving these goals. We brought everyone that is an employee at Azalea into the media center. We said, "These are the things that we need to track. Everyone needs to sign up for one." There were two or three big items that would need more people. On these pieces, we can have two people because it is more involved. Everyone tracks one piece of data on the school improvement plan and the strategic plan. Quarterly, they have to prepare a report about their data. They have to do an analysis and include that in the report. They also have to make the report available on the local area network, as well as report it out verbally in our quarterly meeting. That caused tremendous approval.

NFC: That is overwhelming - 89 pieces of data...

Clark: Well, you have to think about a school, and what leads to a high-performing kid. You've got to track academic data in writing and you check it at every level. There is a data writing person in pre-kindergarten, a data writing person in kindergarten, a data-writing person in first grade and then second, etc. Then you've got to go math, then you've got to go reading. We have to track attendance because attendance is an issue with kids that don't perform highly.

NFC: But how does the kitchen staff, if I'm serving lunches, how do I feel connected? I guess I'm feeling connected because I'm helping to track that data, or...

Clark: What are the issues with high-performing kids? One of them was nutrition. Of our kids on free and reduced lunch, how many are eating breakfast? How many are eating lunch? Of our kids that come in here and don't qualify - are they eating breakfast at home? Are they eating breakfast here? What kind of breakfast are we giving them?

NFC: And so the kitchen staff is involved in collecting and analyzing that data?

Clark: Right. Do we get them through the line in such a manner? What is the cycle time on the line? Do they have enough time to sit down and actually eat this lunch that we have prepared? There is a lot to check. Think about it, you're dealing with bodies rather than widgets. It's easy to track widgets, but when you are talking about building a little human being there's all kinds of things that impact it.

NFC: What's been your greatest nightmare in this whole experience?

Clark: I think one of the key issues is the idea of the vast amount of ongoing training that needs to occur for people to have the knowledge to do this. It is very complex. You look at it on the surface and it looks like seven categories. This is a piece of cake. I'll get some goals. I'll create an information system. I'll monitor results. When you learn a little bit, you realize this is more complex. If I have these goals, in order to have an improvement cycle on these goals, I have to have a manageable information system. It just goes on and on and on. Training is a key piece. It becomes a time issue, especially when you've got little children around all the time. You can't just pull the teachers out of classrooms, and say, "Okay kids, stay here. I'm going to go train your teachers."

NFC: The day you retire, what will be the greatest joy from your career?

Clark: I think the last few years of my career. This is the most exciting stuff I've ever been involved in. I taught children, from poverty stricken areas, for sixteen years. I had been one of them who constantly said, "Well,what chance do we have? Look at where they're coming from. How can I change what their life is in six hours, when they're in that life for eighteen?" And now, knowing at the end of my career that that was just bunk, it was an excuse. I've told many groups, I have a daughter who's 21. If I could be granted just one wish, it would be that Kristy was five again and would be entering kindergarten at Azalea Elementary School.

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