Student satisfaction has increased from 70 percent
in 1998 to 92 percent in 2001; parent satisfaction
has increased from 62 percent in 1996 to 96 percent
The percentage of students graduating from PRSD with
a Regents diploma, a key objective, increased from
63 percent in 1996 to 86 percent in 2001.
PRSD's "balanced scorecard"--a scannable
composite of progress indicators--provides continuous,
up-to-date tracking of district performance.
Seventy-five percent of PRSD's special education students
take the SAT I exam, as compared with 3 percent statewide
and 2 percent nationwide.
On 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 Pearl River
School District, which won in the education category. Located
20 miles north of New York City in Rockland County, New
York, PRSD was one of three educational organizations to
earn Baldrige Awards in 2001; previously there had been
no winners in the education category.
PRSD provides education for 2,500 children, kindergarten
through 12th grade. In addition, more than 1,000 adults
participate in the district's continuing education program.
PRSD's 203 teachers are distributed among three elementary
schools, one middle school and one high school.
During the past eight years, spending for instruction
has grown 43 percent, an increase largely achieved through
savings from operational efficiencies.
Students in Pearl River can choose to attend more than
private and parochial schools located within free-busing
range (15 miles) of PRSD schools. However, since 1990, the
proportion of eligible students choosing to attend PRSD
schools has risen from 71 to 90 percent. Transfers to other
institutions are rare:
94 percent of students who begin their schooling in Pearl
River complete their high school education within the district.
What follows is an interview with Richard Maurer, Pearl
River's superintendent for the past five years. This is
the final of five interviews, conducted with a representative
from each 2001 Baldrige Award winner, appearing in consecutive
issues of Quality Digest.
How were you first
introduced to the Baldrige Award?
Maurer: Our district became
involved in 1995, when Baldrige piloted the education criteria.
And when it became official, we applied in 1999.
How was the district
selected to be involved in the launch of the educational
Maurer: It started about 10
years ago, in the early 1990s. At that point, the board
of education wasn't satisfied with the quality of the educational
achievement of the students and the school district in total.
They directed the school administration to look for models
that could improve the school's academic achievement. Initially
the district became involved in a national movement called
Effective Schools Research to improve its instruction.
I also became involved in a number of award programs that
provided outside feedback. We contacted Xerox and IBM for
examples, and we used consultants to help identify some
of these companies' quality tools that could be modified
and used in a school setting. We also got involved with
the New York State Excellence Program; it's the Baldrige
model at the state level.
used the resulting feedback to improve our performance.
The district was one of the leaders setting up the tristate
educational consortium--about 30 different competitive school
districts from New Jersey, Connecticut and New York to form
a Baldrige-type model to evaluate curriculum. We trained
folks in each school district to go to each other's district
and do a critical audit on curriculum using the Baldrige
model. From that we learned how to use Baldrige criteria
in an education setting.
Tell me about the feedback
you got in 1999-2000, the first time you applied for the
Maurer: The feedback we got
was to ensure that we got a line of sight. We actually did,
and we had results to back it up. In the beginning, we had
a lot more plans and approaches, and as we moved through
this we developed implementation strategies. School districts
are known for listing a whole bunch of things they've done
every year, but the trick for us was to link some kind of
evaluation to all these projects.
What major changes
did you make between then and 2001, when you won the award?
Maurer: We had a process in
place to evaluate efficiencies, for example, the use of
technology in the school district. We were spending millions
of dollars for technology, and we would measure for overall
student satisfaction. But then we added an additional efficiency
measure to it--how often the system was down in the course
of the school year.
What was the most difficult
hurdle to overcome in getting to the Baldrige level?
Maurer: There are a number
of them. One was to be able to identify a world-class benchmark
that we could model after. We could use similar school data
or comparative schools in our region. One of things Baldrige
forced us to do was to start looking at world-class benchmarks,
not just for student achievement, but also for the perception
of the district and class efficiency. That raised the bar.
Did you have a Baldrige
team working on the data together?
Maurer: We have a very lean
administrative team to begin with. The administrative team
became chapter champions, so one or two of them took charge
of a certain chapter. It was their responsibility to really
master the feedback and report on some areas of growth.
Your award is for the
entire district, not just one educational facility. How
do you see the application of the Baldrige criteria differing
for those two types of organizations--one at the district
level and one at the school level?
Maurer: We decided to do it
at the district level because our students go through a
K-12 program. It was essential that our line of sight was
the same at the lower grade levels and the high school level
so that when the students entered high school they weren't
entering different processes.
Did you have any issues
in terms of buy-in to the program? Any kind of resistance
Maurer: Not really because
we did it over a period of about a year, and the administration
modeled the TQM behavior. We presented it in a way that
adds value to the teachers in the classroom. I think if
you presented it in such a way that it was just TQM, then
school districts would have a problem implementing it.
How do you present
it as a value-added initiative and not just going through
a program for program's sake?
Maurer: For example, at the
secretarial levels, we did some process maps on the work
orders process. We realized that a lot of people got involved
in a lot of different decisions, which made the process
really cumbersome. When the staff saw that they could improve
the process, that mapping it would improve their job by
making it easier for them, they quickly adopted it.
You mentioned TQM earlier.
Did the district have experience with any other formal quality
programs or systems?
Maurer: The only other one
was early in the 1990s with the Effective Schools Research.
Researchers had identified programs similar to the Baldrige
that, if implemented, would improve schools. Leadership,
for example. But they weren't as well-defined by any means.
We don't use the word TQM in the district, but the word
Baldrige would be recognized; everybody knows what that
Obviously it was piloted
for some time, but the Baldrige educational program is still
in its infancy. Is there an area in which the criteria could
use an adjustment?
Maurer: I think the Baldrige
has really worked hard adapting the business model to education.
It took a while, but they understand that in education there
are two functions; there's learning and there's the whole
support process, such as the transportation and the food
service. In education, we're not a revenue-producing enterprise.
We are a spending enterprise. We're not looking at increasing
our revenue. We don't project growth in terms of revenue.
What goals of yours
do you expect your Baldrige-based processes to help you
attain in the future?
Maurer: We have three: to improve
student achievement, to improve perception of the district
and to maintain cost effectiveness and reduce noninstructional
Will you formally fill
out an application to monitor progress over the next few
Maurer: I don't know. We haven't
really talked about that. We just won the award, and we
are still dealing with all that. We really haven't thought
out five years from now. We're going to continue with the
Baldrige process and continue with all our assessments and
our charts. It's still a big part of our operations whether
we apply or not.
In the final analysis,
how do you rate your entire Baldrige experience?
Maurer: I'm very positive about
it. Baldrige works for us, and therefore we know it can
work for public education. Lots of models have been navigated
for public education improvement, but Baldrige is a model
that works. I encourage school districts to get involved
in it. Learn the processes. When it's applied deeply, it
can change an organization.
For more information about Pearl River School District,
call (845) 620-3932 or e-mail Maurer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Green is Quality Digest's managing editor. Letters
to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed to email@example.com.