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by Kennedy Smith

Koalaty Kid Success Stories

Junction Elementary School
Kansas City, Kansas

Junction Elementary started implementing Koalaty Kid training in 1996. Since that time, Junction has shown a reduction in unsatisfactory fourth-grade math scores from 13.9 percent to 4 percent, and more than a 20-percent improvement in fifth-grade reading and math scores during the last five years. Additionally, more than 90 percent of fifth-graders score above or at basic level on the Kansas Writing Assessment Test and the Kansas Reading Assessment Test. Discipline-related office referrals have been reduced by 50 percent over a three-year period. In 2000, Junction achieved state recognition with the Kansas Award for Excellence, Level II.

Mark Twain Elementary School
Richardson, Texas

Mark Twain Elementary School was historically the lowest-performing, poorest school in its district. After one year of implementing Koalaty Kid, schoolwide pass rates jumped from 72 percent to 93 percent in the writing/comprehension portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. The mathematics pass rate increased from 65 percent to 81 percent, and the overall rate of passing rose from 35 percent to 71 percent.

Horace Mann Elementary School
Shawnee, Oklahoma

Horace Mann Elementary is a Title 1 school: 98 percent of the students receive free or reduced-rate lunches. Before Koalaty Kid, the third-graders were identified as being “at risk.” The school began by addressing student behavior and attitude; academic achievement followed. After one year of implementation, behavior and attitude that affect learning had improved. Bus misconduct incidents decreased from 112 to 33. Disrespect incidents (e.g., talking back or refusing to do work) decreased from 674 to 38. Academically, the results from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills improved: Third-graders gained 26 points in reading, 23 points in language arts, 24 points in math and 20 points in composition.

More success stories can be ordered from ASQ Customer Service by calling (800) 248-1946.


A Look at the 2002 Koalaty Kid Conference

Nearly 500 educators and quality professionals attended the 13th Annual ASQ Koalaty Kid Conference in Shamburg, Illinois, earlier this year. The conference saw a 25-percent attendance increase from its previous record year (the 2001 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina). The attendance increase may be attributed to the concentration of Koalaty Kid-trained districts in Illinois and the state’s participation in the Baldrige in Education Initiative.

The 2002 conference offered attendees the opportunity to hear keynote addresses from educational and business leaders, including ASQ President Thomas Mosgaller; John Conyers, Superintendent of Palatine School District in Palatine, Illinois; and Sharon Knotts Green, director of educational technologies at Motorola Global Software Group.

A highlight of every conference, school tours give attendees the chance to see students using quality tools and processes in the classroom. Typically, one district is represented in school tours, but the 2002 conference featured three districts—Community

Consolidated School District No. 15, Palatine CCSD No. 300 and CCSD No. 93 Carol Stream—ready to show attendees their classrooms. Palatine was the first district to implement the Koalaty Kid approach in Illinois, in 1997.

On the final day, attendees also had the opportunity to hear Brent Hoffman of the U.S. Department of Education’s Region 5 office, and Sandra Cokeley Pedersen of New York’s Pearl River School District, who spoke about the district’s journey to the 2002 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the first year education awards were named. The event concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Ann Haggerty Raines, a Koalaty Kid Master Trainer, who spoke about quality initiative leadership and sustainability. Along with Cokeley Pedersen, the panel included Perry Soldwedel, superintendent of Pekin Schools in Pekin, Illinois; Mary Ann Wheeler, principal of Fred A. Olds School in Raleigh, North Carolina; John Conyers, superintendent of CCSD No. 15 in Palatine; and Bill Shields, principal of Jay Stream Middle School in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Two events occurred this year that have thrust education into the national spotlight. The first happened on Jan. 8, when President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. This education reform plan brings about major changes to the U.S. educational system, most notably by demanding accountability for results, tracking each student’s accomplishments and emphasizing teaching methods that have been proven to work. Essentially, states and districts will now be given an annual report card so that parents can measure their children’s schools’ performance and rate their states’ progress.

The second event proved that educators are capable of meeting the demands of this new law: On March 7, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was presented to five organizations, three of which were educational institutions—Chugach School District in Anchorage, Alaska; the Pearl River School District in Pearl River, New York.; and the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Previously no Baldrige Awards had been granted in the education category.

Now that schools are both responsible for improving the quality of education and keenly aware that it’s not impossible to do so, the only dilemma is finding the right path to success. The American Society for Quality’s Koalaty Kid initiative is one plan that not only promises, but is proving to aid in schools’ journeys toward excellence in education.

A student-focused plan

Fred the Koala, Koalaty Kid’s mascot, began popping up on bulletin boards, hallways and classrooms at Frederick C. Carder Elementary School in Corning, New York, in the 1980s. Teachers and the principal created Fred after identifying a key area where they felt their students needed the most improvement: reading. After concluding that reading was the key to all learning, they observed that students didn’t read much of anything beyond what they were required to in the classroom. Students were handing in homework with numerous errors, but teachers were convinced these kids knew how to correct themselves. The teachers believed that the students simply didn’t see the importance of doing it right the first time. The Carder faculty then developed a student-focused reading plan in which students signed contracts to read books they chose, gave book reports and recorded each book they finished. It was the teachers’ responsibility to let their students know what level of work was expected of them: best work the first time. Students learned to ask themselves, “Is this my best work?” When it was, their efforts were displayed on the walls of the school and students were recognized for “Koalaty” work. Hence, Koalaty Kid was formed. The result of the school’s efforts was a “trickle up” system of quality from the students to the educators. As the students began to realize the importance of quality in their work, the quality of education at Carder improved as well.

Enter ASQ

The American Society for Quality became involved with Koalaty Kid in the late 1980s when Dave Luther, a past president of ASQ, visited the school and saw a connection between quality and Koalaty. As Luther watched Koalaty Kid in action, he observed basic quality principles: critical issues being identified, development and implementation of a plan for improvement, communicating expectations, a working measurement system, and a consistent system of recognition and reward. ASQ invested in a pilot program, primarily focused on reading-improvement, to implement Koalaty Kid in 26 schools over a two-year period.

The ASQ Koalaty Kid Alliance was founded in 1994. Since then, ASQ has shaped Koalaty Kid into a working improvement plan, complete with educator training, that aims to boost quality not only in the realm of reading, but also in any aspect of school improvement, including anything from math scores to cafeteria behavior.

“Koalaty Kid didn’t look anything like it does today,” remembers Suzanne Keely, a former teacher and the manager of ASQ’s Koalaty Kid initiative. “The focus is still the classroom,” she says. “If it’s not in the classroom, it’s not complete. But we’ve broadened our audience’s knowledge about Baldrige. Once you learn the tools and the process, you can apply it wherever you need it, whether that’s with parent involvement, behavior in the hallways or the ability to do story problems in math. ”

Koalaty Kid and Baldrige

ASQ’s Koalaty Kid is aligned with Baldrige criteria in the form of a handbook published by ASQ: Self-Assessment Guide to Performance Excellence. “We had a Baldrige examiner pick out the high points of Baldrige, the meat of all the different categories, and write the guide,” explains Keely. This loose-leaf guide contains a series of questions to help educators identify their key strengths and opportunities for improvement in each category, along with a grading system to determine whether the school is in the beginning, emerging or advanced stages of improvement. “This guide is a way to help educators understand Baldrige without re-creating it,” Keely adds.

So a school that has never even thought about Baldrige may become interested in Koalaty Kid, or vice versa. “It works both ways,” says Keely. “They may say, ‘OK, what’s next?’ They may use the self-assessment guide in their school improvement planning, and from there, learn what the opportunities for improvement are. The plan-do-study-act cycle is one opportunity for improvement.” In other words, Baldrige is the criteria and Koalaty Kid is an approach to improving the process within that criteria.

In addition to linking well with Baldrige, a few schools are using Koalaty Kid as an umbrella for school reform and applying for Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration funding, three-year grants administered through the U.S. Department of Education. “Although Koalaty Kid isn’t on the national list of approved programs, we have a school in Michigan that was accepted for funding and several more that have applied this year,” notes Keely. Koalaty Kid’s Self-Assessment Guide to Performance Excellence has also been accepted by the Indiana State Department of Education as a model for schools to use in their state-mandated school improvement plans.

Koalaty Kid training

Once a school decides to implement Koalaty Kid in its improvement plans, it then signs up for ASQ’s Koalaty Kid training program, in which teams of educators go through the improvement process with an instructor. Typical training is a six-day process planned over a period of several months. During the first two days, school representatives learn some basic quality tools, a bit of quality theory and the plan-do-study-act cycle. The team then chooses its improvement project. “We try to get them focused on something meaty—reading improvement as opposed to lunchtime behavior—because they have the trainer walking through the process with them,” Keely notes. The trainer will revisit the team in monthly intervals for days three, four, five and six of the training. During these visits, they work through their baseline data, assess their current situation, write down an improvement theory, start collecting data, and eventually apply what they’ve learned and decide whether to standardize or tweak it some more. Once the process is in place, those who participated in the training facilitate the process with other teachers at their school.

Several kinds of Koalaty Kid training are available, including:

n ASQ Koalaty Kid training: held in a school setting for six days

n ASQ Quality Keys training: a version of Koalaty Kid for middle and high school settings in the form of Quality Keys. Although Koalaty Kid is mostly found in elementary schools, there is a growing interest among those who teach grades six through 12 to implement the process.

n Train-the-Facilitator: a weeklong workshop preparing team members to be onsite training facilitators

n Train-the-Trainer: for individuals with quality and training experience. ASQ notes this is especially useful for educators in districts that want to streamline their training processes or for quality professionals who wish to train local schools.

n Quality Essentials for Education: a one-day tools and process overview offered to teachers, administrators, ASQ section members, students in higher education and community members

The future of Koalaty Kid

Koalaty Kid is active in more than 200 schools worldwide, including Canada, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Sweden and throughout the United States—and it’s continuing to grow. Annual conferences attract more attendees every year, and the future looks bright for Koalaty Kid. Keely expects a Spanish translation of Koalaty Kid in the next few years.

“I would say our biggest change in focus right now is that we’re starting to work with districts,” notes Keely. “We’re developing more training on how to use the Baldrige criteria and how Koalaty Kid is a piece of Baldrige. The Pearl River District in New York, one of the 2001 Baldrige recipients, actually incorporated some Koalaty Kid tools and processes into the classroom after they attended a Koalaty Kid conference.”

Results and rewards

For Keely, the real magic of Koalaty Kid is when students realize that using quality tools isn’t magic at all. “These students can explain how to use a quality tool and can chart their progress,” she says. “They actually understand the patterns that they have and can say, ‘I did this, and this improved’ or ‘That was the week of Christmas vacation, and that’s why my behavior changed.’”

Keely knows that elementary school kids aren’t always consciously aware that they’re using quality tools. “I don’t know if they’d ever use the words ‘quality tools,’ but they understand when to use a flowchart and they understand how a cause-and-effect diagram or a Pareto chart can help them,” she says proudly. “When I walk into a school and hear a first-grader or a fifth-grader explain to me how they’ve improved, it’s awesome.”

To learn more about Koalaty Kid, visit www.koalatykid.org.

About the author

Kennedy Smith is Quality Digest’s assistant editor. Letters to the editor regarding this article can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.