Improving Education Organizations

Two articles ago, I talked about the Minnesota Council for Quality and its efforts to improve the economy of Minnesota by facilitating the improvement of the processes that produce the goods and services of the state. In the last article, I talked about the lack of training in our school system on quality improvement and how we are placing future generations at risk. We are falling behind Asia and other parts of the world in this critical area. In this article, I will attempt to tie them together and, yes there is a glimmer of hope. It is not widespread nor is it stemming from leadership from higher education or statewide, but from leadership of individual schools.


Founded in 1987, the Minnesota Council for Quality advances continuous improvement and performance excellence within organizations, individuals, and communities. It helps leaders identify strengths and improvement opportunities and builds networks that bring information, resources, knowledge, and best practices to organizations desiring to improve. They offer services such as their Baldrige based organizational assessments and the Minnesota/South Dakota Performance Excellence Award.


Established in 1991, the Performance Excellence Award is given to organizations that successfully complete a full organizational assessment using either narrative-based or survey-based approach. Applicant organizations receive between 800-1200 hours of evaluation from a volunteer Board of Evaluators. The assessment process includes an independent review of the application, a consensus review by the Evaluator team, a site visit review, and an Improvement Planning Sessions, at which senior leaders prioritize improvement opportunities for their organization.


To no ones surprise the winners of the Award in the early years were almost all manufacturing companies because they were being pressed to improve by competition. Then state offices and medical organizations began to appear as winners. And now in 2012 the winners are:

Designs for Learning

Marshall Public Schools

Byron Public Schools

Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Rochester Community & Technical College

Cardinal of Minnesota

Half of the winners this year are individual schools seeking to improve and another is related to education!


This raises the questions:

What did the staff and teachers learn to help them in the future?

What did the students learn?

How has the curriculum been affected to better prepare students for continued improvement?

A retired teacher from Byron Public Schools, Carolynne White lives on Long Lake. She said the Superintendent of Byron Schools, Dr. Wendy Shannon, brought with her knowledge of the Baldrige Award criteria thirteen years ago when she was selected as Superintendent and started applying it to the school system with strong support from Mayo Clinic and IBM. The staff was trained in continuous improvement. They developed a new math curriculum on their own which is now widely recognized as a model for other schools. Every student learned to set personal learning goals and track improvement on charts, even down to the fourth grade. The students graph their improvement from year to year and take pride in their accomplishments. A highlight of the student-lead Parent Conferences in the middle school is when the students present their progress.


There is reason for hope when you see forward thinking schools like Byron and Marshall, but what about the rest of the schools? Ms. White said incoming practice teachers and new teachers have no knowledge of these continuous improvement methods and have to be taught.


How will this new knowledge get fed back into the curriculum of the teachers’ colleges at the universities? Continuous process improvement methods are being taught across Asian and now African schools, including elementary schools, but only rarely in American schools. Resources like the Council for Quality and industry leaders like Mayo and IBM are available to help but we need the education departments of the universities to teach the teachers.


It is my hope that key people from the universities visit with people from Byron Public Schools, Marshall Public Schools, and Rochester Community & Technical College to see first hand the benefits to the students and our future society of continuous improvement practices.


This is also a good idea for leaders of our local public school boards to also visit and learn from these leaders in education.