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Making the Case for QualityJune 2008Iredell-Statesville School District: Using Baldrige to Improve Teaching and LearningBy Dawn Creason“Gosh, I don’t remember one.” At a Glance . . .That’s what Iredell-Statesville Schools’ Chief Operating Officer Brady Johnson said when he was • The Iredell-Statesville asked whether the district had a strategic plan, back in the days before it implemented a systems-based School District in North approach to improving teaching and learning. Carolina was over budget, out of money, “I’m sure we probably had one,” said Johnson, who was a high school principal prior to joining the and mired in mediocre academic performance and central-office team. “But it was probably one of those pieces of paper we got out once a year and then administrative scandals.filed on some bookshelf. I don’t remember using it, that’s for sure.”• In 2002 the board of education hired Terry Fast-forward six short years: The school district now employs a systems-based approach to continu-Holliday, a superintendent ous improvement using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. A strategic plan was not just with a proven record of developed for the district, but also is used by everyone, every day. using the Baldrige criteria to guide successful schools, The plan—as well as the district’s vision, mission, and six core values—drives all decisions made by to lead the district. the board of education, district administrators, and all school and support personnel. From wallet-sized • Both instructional and cards for all employees to more detailed printed versions, the strategic plan is the guiding force for support personnel were improvement in the district. trained on the use of the plan, do, study, act (PDSA) About Iredell-Statesville Schoolsmethod; Holliday trained many staff members personally. The district Serving more than 21,000 students in an area of western North Carolina about 40 miles north of Charlotte, began a sustained effort Iredell-Statesville Schools is among the fastest-growing school districts in the state. With 19 elementary, to use PDSAs in every seven middle, five high, two early-college high, and two nontraditional schools, Iredell-Statesville Schools is classroom, as well as Iredell County’s top employer, with more than 3,100 employees. Thirty-five percent of the school district’s every task performed students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. More than 45 different languages are spoken by families by nonteaching staff. in the district, and nearly 1,200 students are classified as having limited English-language proficiency. • Six years later the district enjoyed improved test Getting such a large, diverse organization to embrace quality takes careful planning, thoughtful scores, a firmer economic coordination, decisive deployment, and communication to all stakeholders. The message: Continuous footing, and greater public confidence. The district improvement is an ongoing journey, not merely a destination.ranked among the top 6 percent of all 2007 Why Quality?Baldrige National Quality Program applicants.Flash back once more to 2001. The district’s superintendent and finance officer are under fire and facing more than a dozen allegations of mismanagement of district funds. Financially, the district is in The American Society for Quality www.asq.org Page 1 of 5serious trouble—over budget and out of money. Academically, the model was deployed to schools considered to be the most the schools are performing at a level that could generously be at risk of becoming low-performing, a group made up mostly described as mediocre. Public confidence in the school district is of Title I schools, which were already targeted by federal at an all-time low. The board of education realizes that swift and programs seeking to provide academic support to economically deliberate action is required. disadvantaged students. The first step was hiring a new district superintendent. In 2002 As quality became the standard approach to improving classroom the board tapped Terry Holliday for the post. Holliday had been instruction and student learning, the board of education supported serving as superintendent in Transylvania County, North Carolina, Holliday’s recommendation for additional IFs, and the model was where he had used the Baldrige criteria to bolster student achieve-fully deployed across the district during the 2005-06 school year.ment. The board particularly liked the way Holliday articulated the calculated and coordinated effort that would be required to move Iredell-Statesville’s Quality JourneyIredell-Statesville past its existing state of affairs: In addition to the troubles plaguing district administrators, the district’s schools The first stop on the journey to continuous improvement came and classrooms lacked the structural alignment needed to nudge with the board of education’s adoption of a vision, a mission, the district, as a whole, out of its mediocre status.core values, and a strategic plan. Each of these would help steer the system, particularly as schools and classrooms began to align their improvement plans to the district’s goals and ambitions. The Board of Education: Leading By ExampleAs these processes began to evolve, consultants helped Iredell-Statesville write its own version of the Baldrige National Quality The Iredel -Statesvil e Schools board of education has taken a proactive and Program criteria. engaged approach to guiding the district’s journey through the continuous improvement process. In addition to supporting the initial deployment of Although the initial deployment of the model was successful, quality processes throughout the district, the board also serves as a model through its own introspective processes aimed at continuous improvement. it was met with skepticism by many critics, including district employees. Nevertheless, the district continued to move forward Each year the board conducts independent mid-year and end-of-year reviews to gauge its success at helping the district achieve its strategic goals. During with deployment of the Baldrige criteria, each year making this process, board members use the Systems Check III method to assess their improvements to the model to meet the specific needs of the improvement and to identify areas that require additional improvement. The district and its students. Both instructional and support personnel result of these self-assessments is a board of education improvement plan that were trained on the use of the plan, do, study, act (PDSA) is closely monitored throughout the year and that serves as a model for other method; Holliday trained many staff members personally. districts throughout the state and nation.The Evolution of PDSA in Iredell-Statesville “There were too many decisions coming out of a site-based management system,” Holliday recalled. “There were plenty of In Iredell-Statesville, PDSA is a six-step process, as indicated initiatives aimed at improving this or that, but there was very in Figure 1. Initially, all district employees were taught the little alignment throughout the district to ensure the success fundamentals of this method of improvement. However, over of those initiatives. And the worst part of it all was that the time, the PDSA method has been tailored to meet the unique expectations for the entire district, from its leadership to the needs of specific areas of the school district. performance of its students, were extremely low.”Currently, Iredell-Statesville uses three primary PDSA templates: Holliday’s experience using quality tools in education dates • The first is the common PDSA form used for most large-scale back to the 1980s, when he took part in a program called the process improvements. Nearly every district and school leader Total Quality Education Initiative in South Carolina. He used his uses this form to detail and update improvement cycles. status as an alumni examiner for the Baldrige National Quality In 2004, the PDSA method used in Iredell-Statesville Program to train and prepare members of the Iredell-Statesville underwent a PDSA process of its own. Feedback from Schools work force to embrace a new philosophy. Because the many stakeholders, particularly teachers, indicated that the district was fairly large, Holliday recognized that he faced the common PDSA template was too complex for the day-to-day task of training a large work force. With the leadership and activities of a classroom; thus, the classroom PDSA was born. blessing of the board of education, Holliday addressed this issue • The classroom version is used by both students and teachers to with the concept of a lead-teacher corps.improve learning in the classroom setting. This interactive tool Based on a national best-practice model, the mission of the Iredell-Statesville lead-teacher system (which is still in place Figure 1— Iredell-Statesville’s six-step PDSA planand now called the instructional facilitator model, or IF) was to support schools in the implementation of the district’s Plan • Validate the need for improvement• Clarify purpose, goals, and measurescontinuous improvement model through collaboration, aligned Do• Adopt and deploy an approach to continual improvement• Translate the approach to aligned actionstaff development, and coaching of instructional staff. Initially Study Analyze resultsActMake improvementsThe American Society for Quality www.asq.org Page 2 of 5empowers students to work with teachers to identify learning gaps, and to help teachers make suggestions for classroom goals and How Classified Staff at Iredell-Statesville Use the PDSA improvement strategies. Together, students and teachers answer Process—An Examplequestions such as, “What is our SMART goal for the week and how will we measure it?” with opportunities for celebration built In response to the growing number of bus discipline referrals at one of the district’s middle schools, as well as the corresponding increasing amount in. (See Figure 2 for an example of a classroom PDSA.)of time spent by the school’s bus coordinator handling these referrals, the • In 2005, the PDSA method saw yet another improvement school’s bus coordinator used the PDSA method to identify gap areas and cycle with the introduction of the “classified PDSA.” Similar areas for improvement with the bus discipline process. to the classroom PDSA, the classified template, pictured in The improvements identified and developed through the bus coordinator’s Figure 3, presents the improvement method in an easy-to-use PDSA paid off almost immediately. Drivers received staff development training format that simplifies the PDSA process without watering it on specific measures they could take to improve bus discipline, and within the down. For classified employees in Iredell-Statesville Schools, first PDSA cycle, bus discipline referrals and the incidents of misbehavior on process improvement is not only a key method for achieving school buses dropped by more than 50 percent. greater results, but it also serves as a financial incentive. The Other bus coordinators and district officials quickly took notice and began Iredell-Statesville Board of Education provides 2-percent pay looking at ways to implement the bus discipline program more widely. The program was once again put through the PDSA cycle to identify gaps and improvements and final y was replicated and deployed throughout the entire Figure 2— A “classroom PDSA” in action in an school system. As a result, the number of bus discipline referrals districtwide elementary school classroomwas reduced by more than 53 percent in a single year. bonuses for classified staff members who present PDSAs that yield significant improvement or financial savings to a school or the district. The sidebar “How Classified Staff at Iredell-Statesville Use the PDSA Process—An Example” describes how the bus coordinator at one of the district’s middle schools used PDSA to improve the bus discipline process. Academic Improvement Through PDSASignificant achievements in the classroom have been made since Iredell-Statesville’s deployment of PDSA and other integrated quality tools. Perhaps the best example of this improvement can be found in the district’s reading scores, illustrated in Figure 4. In 2003, the district took a thorough look at students’ reading performance on the North Carolina End-of-Grade test (EOG), as well as the methods used to teach reading in Iredell-Statesville. The district determined that its reading instruction was not aligned with the four core areas of the state’s reading curriculum. The first step to improve results was to systematically and systemically adjust instruction to concentrate on those four core areas.After making these changes, district officials and teachers worked together during the summer of 2003 to improve Figure 3— Iredell-Statesville’s PDSA for classified staffPLANDOWhat needs improving?What do you as leader need to do to Figure 4— Iredell-Statesville’s End-of-Grade (EOG) Current performance?implement the proposed approach?reading scores over timeCustomer and requirements? What do the workers need to do?How is this aligned to department What resources will be needed?EOG Readingmission and goals?How will you evaluate progress?92What is the proposed approach Obtain approval from supervisor 90to improve results?to conduct improvement cycle.88ACTSTUDY86List what worked and what did not work.Chart the progress on improving the 8482Share results with supervisor.outcomes listed in the PLAN phase.80What best practices can be transferred to What improved? What was the impact 78another process in your department or unit? on the customer listed in the PLAN phase? Percent Proficient 76Can this process be improved? What were the cost savings for I-SS?74If so, begin the cycle again.72Supervisor recommend performance 70pay based on results.98 – 9902 – 0303 – 0404 – 0505 – 0606 – 07The American Society for Quality www.asq.org Page 3 of 5predictive assessments (PA) for reading. In the past, the the top 10 districts in the state. All five of the district’s high assessments had proved too general, and thus had provided little schools are currently posting average combined SAT scores of usable data to accurately predict a student’s performance on the more than 1,000 points, exceeding the national average.EOG. With improvements to both instruction and assessment in place, the district began to see student achievement increase with A Continuing Commitment to Qualitythe release of the 2003-04 reading scores.Iredell-Statesville’s overall commitment to quality and student Also, the district’s summer school program was expanded in 2004 success continues. Beginning with the board of education and to include not only students who performed poorly on the EOG, extending down to individual classrooms, the district is making but also students who were identified by their teachers as requiring significant progress toward becoming one of North Carolina’s top extra help in reading. Teacher recommendations are based on a 10 school districts, as well as a player in the world-class education number of factors, including predictive assessment data. arena. What’s more, the district ranked among the top 6 percent of all 2007 Baldrige National Quality Program applicants.Iredell-Statesville continues to monitor reading progress and make improvements to processes affecting student achievement Recently, senior leaders of Iredell-Statesville participated in an in reading. Each school identifies its specific weaknesses in exercise to identify more clearly the district’s core competencies. reading and addresses them through its school improvement They analyzed climate survey data, stakeholder focus-group plans and through modified instructional strategies.feedback, feedback from Baldrige assessments, and data from a variety of other sources. The team identified two key themes Iredell-Statesville also relied on the PDSA method to improve (competencies) that are found throughout district work processes:student SAT scores. According to the district’s chief academic officer, Susan Allred, the district’s scores in 2003 were • The district’s aligned and integrated management system.“mediocre.” She says, “They weren’t terrible, but we certainly • The use of a continuous improvement model (PDSA).weren’t making any progress toward being on par with the nation and state.”Along the way, the district has developed models to communicate its systems-management approach to employees and stakeholders. The first step to improving SAT scores was to establish improve-The following models help employees, stakeholders, and partners ment as a strategic goal of both the overall district and its high understand their roles and responsibilities in improving system schools. Schools began to develop ways to meet and exceed the performance at the district, school, or classroom level:state and national SAT averages. • At the district level, the Iredell-Statesville Model for The district’s high schools started by ensuring that the proper students Performance Excellence (MPE) mirrors the district’s key were taking the SAT. “We wanted our students to be successful. To work systems. Within each of these systems are the key do that, we had to ensure that the students taking the SAT were processes that accomplish the mission of the district. MPE equipped with the knowledge they needed,” Allred explains. “We has been used to communicate the overall, districtwide began monitoring our algebra II and geometry classes to ensure those systems approach to improvement.were the students taking the SAT. Without having the knowledge • At the leadership level, the district’s approach is represented provided in those two classes, taking the SAT is futile.”by the senior leadership model. This model communicates the integration and alignment of leadership system processes Additionally, the district’s five high schools all address student to effectively deliver the vision, mission, and values of the achievement in their school-improvement plans, with some school district.specifically targeting the SAT. The results during the past five school years have been exceptional. As Figure 5 shows, the district has moved from being in the bottom half of North Figure 6— Iredell-Statesville’s learning triangleCarolina districts, ranked by SAT scores, to being among I-SS Model ToFigure 5— Iredell-Statesville’s SAT scores over timeRaise Achievement and Close GapQuarterlySAT10thPredictive1050LeadAssessments102557TeacherthSupport10001. What do students need to learn?9752. How will they learn it?3. How will we know they’ve learned it?ProfessionalTotal Score950Instructional4. What will we do if they don’t learn it?Learning Guides5. What will we do if they already know it?Communities925Continuous Improvement Approach90002 – 0303 – 0404 – 0505 – 0606 – 07Aligned Strategic Plans, PDSA, Systems Checks, Data WarehouseThe American Society for Quality www.asq.org Page 4 of 5• At the learning and operations level, two models have been Figure 7— Iredell-Statesville’s operations triangledeveloped, each with a specific communication purpose: One model focuses on raising student achievement and I-SS Model for Aligned, Effective,closing achievement gaps between different types of and Efficient Support Processesstudents. Known as the “learning triangle,” this model, shown in Figure 6, illustrates the integration of key work Studentprocesses (instruction and assessment) and the collective Support1. BasedServicesknowledge, competencies, and skills of the employees on stakeholderrequirements, whatwho make up the district’s professional learning services need to be provided?communities (PLCs). This model is deployed districtwide. 2. How will we provide them?3. How will we know they The Iredell-Statesville model for aligned, effective, and have been provided?efficient support processes, or the “operations triangle,” 4. How will we know they are operatingFinancial/effectively and efficiently?Figure 7, is similar to the learning triangle. The model OperationsAdministration5. What will we do if they are not?demonstrates the integration of student support services, financial and administrative services, and operations. Continuous Improvement ApproachAligned Strategic Plans, PDSA, Systems Checks, Data WarehouseAll of the models specify questions district employees can use to stay focused on improved service delivery. The district’s senior leaders, members of its PLCs, and work teams at the district, department, school, and classroom levels all use them constantly. As Iredell-Statesville continues to grow and change, the district’s use of quality tools for improving student learning will evolve as well. While the district continues to move from a “teaching-centered” model to a “learning-centered” model, it will continue to leverage its use of an aligned, integrated management system and continuous improvement practices to provide higher-quality services to all stakeholders. This process will be enhanced by a recent restructuring of the district’s learning/quality division. The district is developing a leadership academy aimed at preparing school leaders at every level—district, school, and classroom—to ensure broad and effective dissemination of the district’s philosophy.For More Information• To learn more about the continuous improvement efforts in Iredell-Statesville Schools, visit the district’s Web site at www.iss.k12.nc.us. You may also contact the district’s quality assurance department at 704-832-2523.• To learn more about using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence and tools like PDSA in education, visit www.asq.org/education/why-quality/overview.html, or join the Baldrige for Education network: www.asq.org/communities/baldrige-education/index.html. About the Author Dawn Creason is the director of public relations for Iredell-Statesville Schools in Statesville, North Carolina. The American Society for Quality www.asq.org Page 5 of 5