In an earlier case study, I presented the first part of this case study about the Menomonee Falls School District and how they had brought the DMAIC concept/TLS Continuum into the classroom. Here in, I want to conclude the case study by bring both sides together and now looking at the transformed school/administration.
In the May 2007 issue of the Milwaukee Magazine, which in its cover story discussed the best schools in the Milwaukee metropolitan area deter- mined by who was getting the most bang for the buck, the Menomonee Falls School District was ranked as one of four most underperforming K−12 districts. The high school was ranked as possibly needing intervention from outside the district. In 2016, the school district is now internationally recognized with regard to their continuous process improvement efforts; exceeding state expectations; students receiving record high American College Testing (ACT) scores; record participation on advanced placement tests with 80% of students receiving passing scores; creation of STEM, healthcare, and business academies; 80% of students going on to college; highest percentage of students enrolled in dual enrollment course at the local technical college. How did they achieve this turnaround?
In 2011, the district found they were in need of a new superintendent to carry the district forward. This search uncovered Dr. Patricia Greco working in a neighboring district. Utilizing the knowledge gained from her PhD dissertation on instructional practice and organizational improvement, Dr. Greco presented to the board a new perspective on education. She talked about performance metrics being used for planning purposes, not punishment. Of the metrics being a path to encourage experimentation. Of understanding the transformed school as being able to run business principles of constant improvement to improve the way we deliver our product or services to the students.
Intrigued by the picture that Dr. Greco presented, the district offered her the position and approved $400,000 to set up the program. Dr. Greco reached out to the community and local and national consultants who had been active in this area, including Jim Shipley and Associates,10 The Studer Education Group,11 StriveTogether,12 and Waukesha County Technical College,13 for assistance in the transformation.
With the consultants in place, the district selected their top 30% of employees to be trained as the train-the-trainer, giving the initial team specfic training on evidence-based leadership and the basics of the DMAIC methodology. It then became their responsibility to go out into the district and train the remainder of the 300 staff members.
With the training in place and the staff understanding the expected changes, Dr. Greco went back to the board to ensure that what she was planning for changes within the district were in alignment with the board’s goals, mission, and policies.
With the alignment and training regimen in place, the school district implemented the DMAIC process. It needs to be indicated that while the intent of the DMAIC process remained the same, the district modi ed it by asking different questions. These modified questions were more in alignment with the SUCCESS Framework described previously. As indicated earlier, the district began by questioning what was important to the district. The conclusion was that what was important was the flow of students through the school system. This was followed by asking how well was the district creating the WIP within the district? The difference between the two questions determined the system gaps. The remaining questions then moved on to determine the appropriate solutions and how the district was going to guarantee that the district would live up to the performance levels that were established.
Created by Kaplan and Norton, the balance scorecard is a visual pre- sentation of the system operating within your workplace. It explains at a basic level the various perspectives within the organization and how they are interdependent. The responses led to the development of a Balanced Scorecard14 for the district to track the results of the improvement effort.
The Balanced Scorecard created by the Menomonee Falls School District consists of five pillars, each with subsets as shown in Figure 8.3. Each of the pillars works through those areas that the district considered to be most critical to the achievement of the school goals. It is critical at this juncture that we look at the five pillars shown in more detail.
The first pillar begins with what we determined was most important, the flow of students through the educational system.
The first pillar answers that and in turn is composed of five subsets—proficiency and growth, closing the achievement gaps, ACT, advanced placement, and the graduation rate. Each of these subsets presented a picture of where we are (how pro client are we?) and where we need to get to so as to reach the future goal.
The first subset is concerned with both the proficiency (current state) and growth (future state) of the students. In essence, the first subset answered the questions from the SUCCESS Framework as to what do we do, and how well are we doing it? To create a baseline, the district put the emphasis in the reading and math areas using the Common Core Standards as a key performance indicator. Further, much emphasis was placed on the performance of the high school seniors leading up to graduation, the African-American population, the economically disadvantaged, and the special education students.
The second subset looked at how we close the achievement gaps within our target groups. Take the example of Tiffany Fadin , a kindergarten teacher within the district who asks her students every few weeks, “what specific things did we do in this unit that helped you learn? What things did not help you learn?” The goal here is to discover what is working and what needs to be tweaked to enhance the learning environment. The majority of school districts are experiencing gaps in achievements among the very groups that the Menomonee Falls District was confronted with. If we respond to this dilemma in the same fashion as we have traditionally done, the gap tends to be enhanced due to a misplaced view of how to resolve the issue. The district found that by using the system they have in place, the needs of all the students can be met more efficiently.
The third subset is ACT. ACT is one of the college entrance exams used by most high schools to judge the performance of their educational offer- ings. The average ACT composite score for the district, in the 2011–2012 school year, was 22.90. In the 2014–2015 school year the score had jumped to 23.47. Through greater student engagement the test scores climbed.
The fourth subset was the participation in advanced placement programs. There is a great deal of discussion in the educational world as to the value of these classes. In the district, the concern was centered on not only participation in the classes, but also how well the students were performing in those classes.
The fifth and final subset is that of the throughput level at the end of the system ow. By this I mean if we go back to the beginning of the system, how many students who enter the door in kindergarten leave the door of the high school with the diploma in hand? This represents the performance indicator, which demonstrates whether or not we have met our response to the question, what is important? I stated earlier that the answer was the ow of students through the system. The graduation rate is the metric that provides the data behind the question.
From the quality achievement pillar, the scorecard moves to a feedback pillar titled service. In this pillar, the district looked at the responses to two survey tools. The first one asked the students how they felt about the educational program. The second one asked similar questions of the parents. The results of the two surveys were then compiled as part of the district’s support card. Each area (overall, likely to recommend, proud of school, safety and cleanliness) has shown marked improvement since the new system was introduced.
In any organization, the most important contributor to the success of the organization is the people who make the organization function. The third pillar is devoted to the staff of the district. The scorecard looks at employee involvement from the view of how well the staff has performed and, based on an additional survey tool, how engaged the staff members are in the pro- cess improvement effort.
A crucial need in any organization, schools especially, is the health and safety of the organization. The fourth pillar looks at the safety and health issues surrounding the schools. In a related area to student ow through the district, the district began this pillar looking at the suspension rates within the schools. Who is affected? Why are they affected? What can we do to bring down the rate of suspensions within the schools? Related to suspensions is the other side of the coin, and the district asked similar question pertaining to the overall rate of attendance. The final consideration in the health and safety area looked at the number of workers’ compensation claims. How many accidents are happening because the school had not taken into consideration issues that put the health and safety of students and teachers at risk?
The final pillar dealt with the finances of the district. How good was the district’s credit line? Have they created a balanced budget? How efficient are the district’s operations? It is crucial that everyone on staff from the custodial staff to the superintendent becomes committed to the changes that the new normal is creating. The model used in the transformed classroom can and is carried over to the entire school. It begins with identifying what the school is trying to accomplish. The second step is how we know, when we arrive at a suspected change, that it is an improvement. Is it really transforming the school or merely disguising the change to make things look good? Then the third step is, what changes can result in that sought-after improvement?
With the scorecard in place and operating, the district needed to put in place the model for the future reviews of the district. The district chose the basic continuous process improvement model that has been in existence since the Toyota days. Everything the district did was based on four steps. The process began with the planning stage in which the district planned out the steps necessary to achieve the end goal of getting students through the system. Once the planning stage was complete the district then implemented those plans. The third stage was an analysis of the system to see if the actions taken were working. If they were not then the system returns to the planning stage, reworks the plan and tries again. If there is still a problem then you repeat the process. Note that there is no penalty phase for trying. The final stage is undertaken when the study phase tells us that we are operating in such a manner that we are achieving our goals, and so we then act on those results that are favorable to the outcomes.
Like all the included case studies, the Menomonee Falls School District shows you, the reader, the power of the new normal I am suggesting in this work. It leads to a more engaged organization at all levels. It leads to a new outlook on a system, which for too long needed that new outlook. The use of the TLS Continuum methodology creates an environment that brings out the entire potential of the organization for great outcomes.