n CSD led the formation
of the Alaska Quality Schools Coalition, and 12 school
districts, in and out of Alaska, are replicating the
n Fourteen of 17 CSD
graduates since 1994 have attended post-secondary
institutions, as compared with one between 1975 and
n Results on the California
Achievement Test rose dramatically: in reading, from
the 28th percentile in 1995 to the 71st in 1999; in
math, from 54th to 78th; and in language arts from
26th to 72nd.
n In the four subject
areas tested in Alaska’s High School Graduation
Qualifying Examination, CSD topped the state average.
March 7, 2002, President George W. Bush and Commerce Secretary
Don Evans presented five organizations with Malcolm Baldrige
National Quality Awards in recognition of their performance
excellence and quality achievements. Among the winners was
Anchorage, Alaska’s Chugach School District, which
won in the education category—becoming the smallest
organization to win a Baldrige Award, in any category. Before
2001, there had been no winners in the education category.
Although it’s home to just 214 students, CSD encompasses
22,000 square miles in south central Alaska. And most of
its students live in remote areas, accessible only by aircraft.
Teachers have to be adept at a variety of subjects, including
wilderness and cold-water safety and how to respond in the
event of a tsunami or an encounter with a bear. District
programs span from preschool to post-secondary education,
serving students up to age 21.
CSD has pioneered a standards-based system of “whole
child education” that emphasizes real-life learning
situations. After securing a waiver from the Alaska Department
of Education, the district replaced credit hours and grade
levels—hallmarks of traditional schooling—with
an individualized, student-centered approach. This approach
aims for measurable and demonstrable proficiency in 10 areas
of performance, from basic academic and career development
skills to cultural awareness and character skills. CSD’s
high school graduation requirements exceed Alaska’s
requirements in many areas.
What follows is an interview with Richard DeLorenzo, the
district’s superintendent of schools. This is the
third of five interviews, conducted with a representative
from each 2001 Baldrige Award winner, appearing in consecutive
issues of Quality Digest.
QD: The Baldrige was awarded
to the entire district. How long has the district been involved
with the Baldrige criteria?
With the criteria
itself, only a year and a half. We didn’t even know
about the Baldrige Award until just two years ago. But,
I do a lot of work based on the teachings of W. Edwards
Deming. We’ve been doing the processes, tracking,
data analysis, results and focus for eight years. But we
didn’t put the umbrella over it until just a year
and a half ago.
QD: When was it that you were
first introduced to Deming and his works?
It was when
I was a teacher. I was a special education teacher for a
number of years, and I’ve always looked at how to
make better systems because special education design in
America doesn’t work for most kids.
Deming talked about everybody being a part of the answer;
it’s usually the system’s fault. The climate
of the educational environment is very sad. It’s backstabbing
and counterproductive; there’s no focus. It’s
just a routine that we follow because that’s how we’ve
always done it. Education is just mired in mediocrity.
QD: Once you found out about
the Baldrige Award, did you get any help from consultants?
I did some training
myself and then hired a consultant to come and look at what
we do. But she walked in and right away told me, “You’re
crazy; you can’t go get this award.”
I said: “But you don’t understand what we’ve
done. I mean, this is how I think; this is how the organization’s
set up. All we’re doing is just changing the name
of some of the categories. That’s all we’ve
got to do, pure and simple.”
QD: What was it about your
conditions that worried her?
we deal with are just unbelievable. When we do a breakfast
program, it’s not like we go to the store and put
it in the back of our truck and then bring it to the school.
We have to order the food, pick it up in the van, take it
to the airport and put it in an airplane, fly it 300 miles
and then unload it. And then try to unfreeze the propane
and get the lines to work right to be able to get the stove
to work to cook the food to give it to the kids.
QD: Did you incur any difficulty
in terms of getting the funding to go after the Baldrige
expensive for a public school system, especially when it’s
our size, to pay for this. It was about $30,000 out of pocket.
We’re very successful in getting soft money because
of our hardships, conditions and poverty level. The state
provided a $24,000 learning opportunity grant to implement
standards in quality.
QD: Are there enough grants
on the books for which school districts that are very serious
about making a turnaround quality investment can apply and
get the funds necessary to do something like you’ve
There are, but
I think there’s always a need to have more. We also
saved money by redesigning how we do business. We saved
30 percent of our dollars. We used to allocate 49 percent
of our budget to administrative costs and now we have it
down to 12 percent.
QD: What would you say was
the greatest challenge in getting to the Baldrige level?
I think we won
because we really reinvented how to do schools based on
all the best practices that are out there. So when they
talk about external benchmarking, that’s what we do.
We do that just naturally as part of our organization.
I think one of the things we did right was taking apart
everything we do and building it back up again. It looked
One of the big barriers we had is the terminology from
the Baldrige criteria. Here’s an example: The criteria
talks about PDCA—plan, do, check, act. We call ours
PDER (plan, do, evaluate, refine); it’s named after
our late board president, Peter Falanhoff. This way it becomes
personal to the people in my organization.
QD: Are there any areas where
you think the education Baldrige criteria maybe doesn’t
go far enough?
You can take
a very traditional system and make it run very efficiently
to get the award without really doing the innovation, the
agility, the future focus. I think they need to have a category
for vision: How is this dynamic vision driving what you’re
doing? I think that’s got to be one of the categories
for education. It’s currently one of the core values
under visionary leadership, but it’s so weak.
QD: What are some quantifiable,
quality-based results you’ve seen since your integration
of quality and education?
As a district
we were in the bottom quartile in basic skills, such as
reading, writing and math, and within five years we rose
to the top quartile, the 71st to 72nd to 75th percentile,
after starting off 25th to 30th. I think that’s great,
but more important, we look at other areas because testing
deals with one aspect, but there’s also technology.
Our kids all have laptops and they do Web pages.
We gauged our community in a year-long process, asking,
“What do you really want for your kids?” They
said they wanted basic skills, they wanted technology, they
wanted character development, they wanted transition skills
from school to life. Not just giving a kid a diploma and
saying good luck. We built our vision on those concepts.
In doing that we got rid of the Carnegie credits and we
went to the performance level. So when you graduate from
Chugach School District, your writing samples have to meet
a certain level. Your technology has to able to do certain
kinds of things. For career development, you have to have
specific kinds of experiences.
QD: You’ve hit a huge
milestone. What comes next for the school district?
created a foundation called the Reinventing Schools Coalition,
and we want to have a national impact. We want to be central
in state and national policy. We want to help other districts
throughout America that want to change, that really want
to be different in how they do business so all kids have
a chance to reach their full potential and no child is left
behind. That’s what I’m working on with different
foundations right now.
QD: In the next five years,
during the moratorium restricting organizations from applying
within five years after winning, will you fill out an application
as an assessment?
have critical friends, people who understand Baldrige criteria,
come look at those areas. So we’ll take pieces of
it. It’s a daunting task for an organization that
only has 30 staff members. We were the smallest organization
ever to get it, and we did it the quickest, and we’re
the first in education, so we have a lot of milestones.
A lot of it is just because we’ve been able to create
a synergy within our organization to really achieve excellence.
The challenge for us now is making it happen and scaling
it to a large distance.
For more information about Chugach School District, visit
www.chugach schools.com, call (907) 522-7400 or e-mail email@example.com.
Robert Green is Quality Digest’s managing editor.
Letters to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed