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The Broder/Baldrige/Montgomery County Connection

Since his recent death, David Broder’s eulogies seemed to cite a common insight about his unique success as a reporter. He could move back and forth between in-the-clouds issues faced by policymakers in Washington, and the on-the-ground issues faced by practitioners around the country …and at both “levels” his stories seemed to capture their meaning for the people involved.

Broder’s dual focus played a unique role in the development of this Sabusense site’s content about the journey of the Montgomery County Public Schools that led to its recent recognition as the recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for “performance excellence through innovation, improvement, and visionary leadership.” And, at the same time, to its acknowledgment as a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education as one of the five best large districts in the nation for improving student performance while narrowing academic achievement gaps.

Here’s the story that several articles that Broder wrote in 1999 and 2000 “helped” write.

When you are a “big picture” thinker viewing problems from a 20,000 ft. perspective, one of the slow-to-recognize truths that emerges is that, regardless of the different relationships and patterns your “bigger picture” enables you to see, you are still looking at what’s happening everyday “on the ground.”  And it’s often hard to connect the two.

That’s why several articles that Broder wrote in 1999 and 2000 produced a light-bulb moment that helped me make sense of a problem I was having making that connection.

Because of his deep interest in education and effective governance, he had visited two “Baldrige”-using school systems —  the Brazosport School District in Texas and one school in the Pinellas County Schools in St. Petersburg, FL. – the  Azalea Elementary School.

In Brazosport he saw how Baldrige processes had influenced the thinking and actions of those usually thought of as the “Top” of the system. At Azalea, he reported on the thinking and actions of those usually thought of as at the system’s “Bottom.” (This “Top and Bottom” thinking is a problem in itself because a naturally-connected system doesn’t have a “top” and “bottom.” This misperception is addressed elsewhere on the site.)

But in both, a reader could understand both policies and programs in term of their meaning for kids and the adults who interacted with them every day.

At the time I led AASA’s Quality Schools Network, and was on the Executive Working Group of National Alliance for Business’ BiE IN (Baldrige in Education Initiative). In both roles, I had been struggling with how to address the bipolar perceptions of what the Baldrige process was — i.e., some saw it as something to impact what the system does, and others to impact what the kids do.

One product of those struggles and ruminations was development of a thought piece that I hoped might help others think about why it was so hard to understand how the Baldrige process might relate to their needs – Making Sense of the Baldrige A View from 20,000 feet.”

I didn’t realize at the time how Broder’s insights would impact the scope and nature of my own work for the next 13 years when I shared that paper with the Montgomery County MD Public schools then new—superintendent, Jerry Weast. But from our initial interactions developed the unique role I’ve played in subsequent years as an embedded learner in the system, described elsewhere on this site. (Catching them doing something right)

This role offered an opportunity to observe “both ends” of the system simultaneously through a single lens that focused on a common level of action that drove the stories of how they were trying to make a difference. (Making Sense Through a Systemic Leadership and Management Lens)

It’s interesting to look back now at how that year 2000 thoughtpiece began and ended.

It began with:

“People who care about children today, and those who care about how they must be to survive tomorrow, get excited when they see certain things happening in school systems that say they are “doing” or “using” Baldrige. They see “results,” not only test scores but in changed relationships and roles, especially for children and teachers.

Quite naturally this excites them because they would like to see that happen in all schools. But when they turn to finding out what is causing those effects, they run into an interesting barrier to understanding what people mean when they use term “Baldrige.”

They are trying to make sense of what they are seeing happen around “the Baldrige.”  And while they like what they see, they can’t quite connect it into a coherent, meaningful picture that can explain why it’s happening. And without the meaning that understanding provides, effective collaborative action is impossible.

Specifically, schools are being asked to “buy-in,” and totally accept, something called “Baldrige” by significant others who can’t clearly tell them what this “thing” is. Baldrige advocates point to classrooms, or school sites (and in only a very few cases districts) where significant and different results are apparent.

These “results” are not only test scores, but the way children joyfully take control of their own learning, and teachers creatively find they can meet needs of all children, not just some.

What, beyond faith, is the connection between those observable results and a set of paper “criteria for performance excellence” being advocated by business and government? And, oh yes, aren’t those “continual improvement” tools and processes that are integral parts of this approach the same ones that used to be related to that “fad” – TQM?  Moreover, with all the pressures on school’s today, who’s got time and resources to compete for an “Award?”

The Making Sense of Baldrige paper then concluded with:

“The challenge is that at this point in its application to schools, a structure or infrastructure that connects teaching-as-a-process to learning-as-a-process is still missing. The question now is how this thing called “Baldrige ” can serve to create a way of thinking and interacting that can enable a school system to make a difference in results for all children by enabling its people to make a difference in the results for each.”

And then the paper “promised” in a footnote that there would be answers to that challenge in a subsequent section.

“(The next section of this In-Process think piece addresses how a school district could leverage the Baldrige processes to develop an Integrated Learning Management System — an infrastructure, or scaffold, that would support its continual improvement from the inside-out.

This infrastructure would be driven by each person’s intrinsic need to continually improve their own capacities to make a difference for children, rather than by the extrinsic pressures that present conflicting demands for “change.)”

Well it’s taken 12 years to fulfill that “promise” but that’s still a good description of the nature of what the MCPS developed to bridge and sustain interaction between its “two ends.”

And while unfortunately I don’t have David Broder’s reportorial skills, I’ve used what he taught me about how to make sense of the actions of people trying to make a difference through seemingly disconnected policies and practices to tell the story of its development as a single story that doesn’t have “tops” and “bottoms” but as a connected whole. It’s a story in process, but for those interested, leads to much of it are embedded already throughout this site.

And what I’ve been learning is that this type of coherent story-telling isn’t as easy as David Broder made it seem. But that’s why we honor him.


Comment from Peggy Siegel
Time March 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm

In preparing his tribute to David Broder, Lew asked me for some background information that provided context for Broder’s interest in Baldrige, relected in several columns that he wrote in 1999 and 2002. As co-director of BiE IN, the Baldrige in Education Initiative at the National Alliance of Business and a former Baldrige Examiner, here is an updated version of what I shared:

1. The National Alliance of Business meeting David Broder referenced in his column was part of BiE IN, co-led by NAB and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC). The two organizations planned a DC-based meeting primarily to inform our national education partners (from business and education) about how growing numbers of school districts were using Baldrige to frame their improvement efforts. Broder was the only reporter we invited to this primarily awareness-building meeting for policymakers because we thought, correctly, that given his deep interest in education and effective governance, he would “get it.”

2. After Broder dedicated one of his 1999 columns to the meeting, he remained interested in the issues. As a result, I learned from him that he was especially taken with Brenda Clark’s presentation. As principal of Azalea Elementary School in Pinellas County Schools in St. Petersburg, FL, Brenda was one of the first practitioners to seize the opportunity of using Baldrige to personalize education for each student and involve all students—with their teachers and parents/custodians–actively in instructional decisions so they become responsible for their own learning. Azalea’s experiences, I think, are a precursor to today’s emerging discussions prompted by new technology on what it truly means/takes to create lifelong learners. David saw the potential immediately, which is why his column focused primarily on Brenda.

3. NAB and APQC subsequently held a competition to select six state/local teams to participate in the two year BiE IN initiative; Maryland was one of our six states and MCPS was one of MD’s local partners. Azalea Elementary School, under Brenda’s leadership, won the Baldrige-based Sterling (FL Quality) Award; Brenda later left Pinellas County Public Schools to join Jim Shipley & Associates and was one of the coaches to the New Mexico BiE IN Team and a number of NM school districts, after which she became a consultant to and then Ass’t Sup’t at Iredale-Statesville, helping the NC district win the National Baldrige Award two years before MCPS; Jack Grayson, founder of APQC, had been involved early on in creating the National Baldrige Award and APQC, has worked with MCPS through the North Star Project. This proves that everything relates to everything, I guess, not only when it comes to systemic change but also among the advocates of such change.

4. Back to David Broder and another reason for his interest in the Baldrige Award: he had great respect for Malcolm Baldrige, having interviewed President Reagan’s Secretary of Commerce about his ideas in improving the U.S. economy using quality processes. Therefore, Broder became intrigued when the Baldrige-based improvement strategy began to catch on in education.

5. The year that Chugach, Alaska became one of the first two education Baldrige Award recipients, Broder attended the Award ceremony and interviewed Richard DeLorenzo, Chugach Superintendent, following up on his initial interest in Brenda and Azalea, on how the use of something as complex and operational as Baldrige could, if implemented thoughtfully, have a profound impact – giving adults the means to engage students as early as possible in the process of becoming learners over a lifetime.

On a personal note: it was a privelge to have been able to reinforce, through David Broder’s reporter lenses, insights, and personal integrity, the potential of using Baldrige to enhance education, not only organizationally but directly in the lives of individual students. Your blog is a fitting tribute to someone who lived his life challenging all politicians and public officials to strive higher by meeting comparable expectations of the highest quality.

Comment from admin
Time March 31, 2011 at 9:55 am

Peggy – Thanks so much for mentioning Chugach Alaska because it was another example of Broder’s ability to see through organizational structures to focus on the people they interconnect. And here’s some history about how it connects to MCPS and its Baldrige journey.

I had been at the same 2003 Baldrige conference he attended with the first two education awardees – small, rural Chugach and the suburban Pearl River district in NY. Digging back in my notes today I found that later I had suggested to some in MCPS that of the two, Chugach might be the better choice to:

“(1) provide practical, effective examples of the relationship of school improvement planning to the ways of thinking and questioning that Baldrige evokes, and especially in the management tools to act on that thinking. And

(2) offer a benchmarking opportunity.

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that Chugach is a perfect benchmark for MCPS, so here’s my thinking about why it is.

• Many people first think that the Alaska district is so different in demographics and size that there can be little connection to what MCPS is doing. This may be the only case in life where “size” is not important. What happened there – and why they were one of the only two school districts to get the national award, and especially why the Gates Foundation has taken an active interest in them, as has the State of Alaska – can be found in the district-wide scope of their results, and the fundamental nature of their instructional changes.

• A MCPS principal, Eva Whitten, and I attended their sessions at Quest last year, and both agreed that the other winner — Pearl River – (even though it was a suburban system with a lot of seeming similarities with MCPS) didn’t really “get” the nature of using Baldrige as “a way-of-thinking” for “systemic” change that was beginning to take place here. Chugach, on the other hand, had created — in an entirely different setting — a coherent and effective system that accomplished all the necessary process outcomes and was producing “miracle” reactions similar to what MCPS has evoked from outside observers.

So, although their demographics might seem different, Chugach and MCPS are very similar in the scope and nature of their efforts to integrate “improvement” into everyone’s everyday work. And for that reason offers an extremely relevant benchmark-able opportunity for learning.”

Comment from Bob Crumley
Time April 7, 2011 at 10:45 am

Lew: It was a pleasure speaking with you at the recent Baldrige Quest Conference. Thank you for initiating this tribute to David Broder. As the Assistant Superintendent of Chugach School District at the time of the Baldrige award, I can easily say that his article regarding Chugach best captured our student-centered continuous improvement spirit. As the current Chugach Superintendent, I’m happy to report that this spirit is alive a well.

In reflecting upon our journey, which includes learning from many others involved with Baldrige, I’m struck by the idea that while Baldrige provides the framework for quality, it is the passion of the people that provide the innovation. When we received the Alaska state award (APEX) in 2009, Dr. Sponge was the keynote speaker for the award ceremony. He spoke about his time with Boeing when aircraft assembly was in stages and the stages were all on a time-bound schedule. Dr. Sponge spoke about planes being passed from one stage to the next before they were ready, which caused poor quality. He finally had to mandate new requirements regarding the schedule being less important than the quality. “Hold those planes” was the new mantra. When schedule, while still important, became secondary to quality, the planes didn’t advance until they were ready.

You might see where I’m going with this. As you know, in Chugach we experienced the same thing with students. They were being passed from one grade level to the next before they were ready. We finally said, “Hold those students”. Now, in each content area, students advance to the next level when they are ready.

I use this example to point out that in business and education, much of the innovation is centered around bureaucracy-busting. Whether it is schedules, calendars, processes, policies or state regulations, some of the hardest improvements to make are letting common sense prevail over entrenched, antiquated past practice.

The connections that are made, both relationships and linking processes into systems, allow people to gain the necessary perspective to see which practices need improvement. I was so pleased to see the MCPS presentations about this. While Baldrige is the framework for their improvement, it appears they have customized and embedded Baldrige philosophy into all aspects of their everyday operation. Like Chugach, it appears that whether it’s called Baldrige or some other more locally relevant name, it is now simply what they do. It’s standard operating procedure. I was excited to see this in such a large district as we constantly hear that Chugach was only able to do this because of our size.

Thank you again for initiating this page.

Comment from Ed Wade
Time April 10, 2011 at 1:23 am

That would be Dr. David Spong who lead the Boeing C-17 military airlifter program in Long Beach, CA.

Comment from Lew Rhodes
Time April 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

Bob Crumley – When you said-
“I use this example to point out that in business and education, much of the innovation is centered around bureaucracy-busting. Whether it is schedules, calendars, processes, policies or state regulations, some of the hardest improvements to make are letting common sense prevail over entrenched, antiquated past practice.”- –
you made two important points – (1) about why so many “change” efforts are basically “workarounds” to ignore the “elephant” that’s already on the table – the system that’s the context for the daily work.]; and (2) the need for a way to experience the difference between “common sense” and the “common sense of common practice.”
One way I’ve found useful as a “bureaucracy buster” because it challenges many of the beliefs that support them is “The Truth or Consequences Test” which you’ll find under “Resources” on the site.

Let me know if it makes sense to you…

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