What You Can Learn from a Baldrige Award-Winning School

By Christine Schaefer

In 2015, the Charter School of San Diego (CSSD)—part of a public school system—became the first school of its kind to earn a Baldrige Award. (Baldrige Award recipients in the education category over the previous 14 years included seven public school systems, a university, a community college, and a business school.) Embracing a greater aim of education, CSSD’s leaders consider “transforming lives” their core work as the school advances the learning of students who had been at risk of not graduating from high school.

Male student in graduation cap and gown

Last spring, at the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, CSSD Executive Director Tim Tuter and other school leaders provided extensive information about the school’s innovative practices to help at-risk students achieve new levels of success (e.g., see a related blog here.)

Early next month, Tuter will return to the annual Quest conference to share more about his organization’s processes, results, and journey to excellence using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence)

In advance of that presentation, Tuter graciously responded as follows to questions about his school’s use of the Baldrige framework.

head shot of Tim Tuter

Tim Tuter

How has the Baldrige framework contributed to your school’s success?

The Baldrige framework has allowed our school to identify and exceed stakeholder requirements in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago when we started our Baldrige journey. By diligently applying the Baldrige framework, we have developed robust processes in leadership, strategic planning, knowledge management, and operations to improve our school each and every year.

Our strong and improving school results over the past decade have been attributed to directly applying the Baldrige Criteria to every aspect of our school. The most rewarding part in realizing our school’s strong results is to know that these results directly relate to student motivation, student achievement and most important, students graduating. Given that our mission is to reduce dropouts and reengage an at-risk student population, results mean everything.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of applying the Baldrige Criteria to our school has been the development of a common language within the entire workforce around process improvement. This common language has helped us shape a very positive workforce environment and contributed to very high levels of workforce engagement compared to top industry performance. Winning the Baldrige Award has helped reinforce a very strong culture among the stakeholders of our school.

Would you please share an example or two of successful Baldrige-based practices at your organization?

CSSD senior leaders spend a tremendous amount of time planning and participating in dialogue and events that allow us to engage our stakeholders in a variety of ways. The Senior Leader Communication Plan allows CSSD senior leaders to consistently interact with all members of the workforce in strategic situations focused on consistently communicating the mission, vision, and values of the school. From providing regular updates at faculty meetings, to leading training sessions for new workforce members, to giving handwritten Welcome Cards to all new employees, we use the Senior Leader Communication Plan to inspire the workforce and grow the school.

One of the most meaningful communication methods is what we call “Tea with Mary,” where our CEO (Mary Bixby) meets in an informal setting with members of each division of the workforce to discuss ideas they have for improvements. Some of our most innovative ideas have come from employees who had thought about something for a while but might not have had the opportunity to share it without a “Tea with Mary” or similar event. By providing several opportunities, in a variety of ways, for employees to express their thoughts to our highest-level executives, we have successfully improved numerous school processes and results in all categories of the Baldrige framework.

What advice would you give other education leaders for using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support student learning?

Educators in every school across America focus much of their time engaging stakeholders to gather information and make improvements, with varying degrees of success. I often tell fellow school administrators that the Baldrige framework’s strategic planning criteria provide a perfect road map for how to improve a school with the goal of supporting student learning.Female student waving in her graduation day cap and gown

Our strategic planning process is very robust and gathers inputs from all stakeholders. Since our school has already invested in an effective strategic planning process with input from all stakeholder groups, we are well ahead of others in meeting a new legal requirement recently passed by California’s state legislature that requires all public schools to engage their stakeholders in determining how they will achieve all state-defined priorities aligned to their budgets.

It might seem odd, but we find strategic planning fun! We thrive on strategic planning, as we continue to achieve success from following our process. If you want to support student learning, you have to plan for it.

What else might participants learn during your upcoming session at the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence conference? For instance, since your organization won the Baldrige Award in 2015, how have you continued to use Baldrige concepts to drive improvements, innovation, and excellence?

Every year we continue to integrate Baldrige concepts within our school. One of the biggest enhancements has been our strong focus on improving our knowledge management. We have continued to enhance our Collaboration and Knowledge Management System to provide opportunities for sharing student performance data [among educators] in more disaggregated ways.

The student achievement data we discuss and the decisions we make from those opportunities have tremendous impacts on our instructional program and the overall operational direction of our school. One of the keys to our success is the strategic collaboration that occurs throughout the school year when we analyze and discuss new data and the dialogue leads to innovation and process improvements.

We begin planning for the next school year’s knowledge management methods six months before the new school year begins. We have a unique way of gathering data, distributing data, and making improvements from the information it brings us.

Any school or organization can learn from how our school manages knowledge, and we will share that during our concurrent session at the Quest conference.

To learn more from Tuter and other leaders of Baldrige Award recipient organizations in every sector, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference.

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