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The Official Baldrige Blog

The Exceptional Student Focus of a 2015 Baldrige Award-Winning School

students in caps and gowns embrace
Credit: Charter School of San Diego; photo used with permission.

The Charter School of San Diego (CSSD)—part of the public school district of San Diego County—provides a personalized education program for each of the approximately 4,000 students it serves annually.

The school’s exceptional focus on individual students starts with a unique strategy for locating facilities. CSSD currently educates students at 18 resource centers scattered across San Diego county. In addition to a few buildings it owns, the school leases instructional space in strip malls and other building spaces close to social service agencies and community centers. This design makes it convenient for many students to travel by public transportation or foot to receive instruction at one of the school’s resource centers.

CSSD Communication Specialist Jackie Robertson, speaking at the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence® Conference in April, explained that CSSD’s design is linked to its marketing strategy. “We disaggregate data by resource center, looking at needs in those communities,” she said. “We want every student to know about us that needs us.”

According to Robertson, most CSSD students enroll at age 16 or older, and 60 percent arrive to CSSD behind academically (i.e., typically three years behind in English course credits). Sixty-nine percent of CSSD students enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year were from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, and 156 were homeless. “One of the things we learned [through the Baldrige process] was the importance of defining our customers,” said Robertson. 

The school’s methods for listening to its student “customers”—responsive to Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence requirements in category 3—are intended to be purposeful, said Robertson.  “We don’t just listen; we make sure that we’re meeting our students’ requirements,” she explained. CSSD has determined (in listening to students and their parents) that those key requirements of students are to (1) reach their educational goals, (2) learn in a safe and supportive environment, and (3) graduate college- and workforce-ready. Robertson gave the following examples of CSSD listening methods, stressing that all methods are actionable, accessible, and timely:

  • Surveys
  • Student Results
  • Weekly Communications with Parents
  • Home Visits: Referring to her co-presenters and panelists at the Quest Conference session— CSSD External Relations Coordinator Wade Aschbrenner; CSSD Special Instruction Coordinator Stephanie Starr; CSSD Partnership Coordinator Debbie Giaquinta; and CSSD School Coordinator Alissa Tuter—Robertson pointed out, “Everyone at this table has been on home visits.”)
  • Social Media/Web-Based Technology: “We’ve been very strategic in which social media platforms we use,” said Robertson. “We primarily push out information and allow parents and students to give us feedback.” She added that the school has tracking in place to ensure that incoming emails go to the correct CSSD staff person and that each gets a response within 24 hours.


Speaking of the school’s key process known as the Pathways Personalized Education Plan (PPEP), Aschbrenner said, “This is what the school is built upon. We replicate this process across 18 different sites. So it’s key that we’re listening to what our customers want. … they want to be treated like an individual.” Aschbrenner explained that CSSD’s PPEP is a three-part process encompassing Personalized Pathways Intake, Student Pathway Implementation and Progress, and Successful Pathways Transition.

According to other CSSD presenters, to support student success, the school limits the number of students with whom each teacher works weekly to no more than 40. Since not all students are in class every day, they said the student-teacher ratio is 25:1. They also explained that the school’s information system helps teachers meet each student’s unique learning needs by providing instantaneous feedback that can be used to adjust instruction. The school’s digital systems also enable teachers to share their best practices with colleagues across CSSD resource centers.

Giaquinta, the school’s community partnership coordination lead, explained another unique practice that promotes the success of CSSD students: flexible hours. “Many of our learning centers are open early or late and on Saturdays, accommodating those who have to work or who may be parents themselves,” she said.

How does your organization—whatever your sector or industry—focus on customers?  

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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