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The Official Baldrige Blog

Leadership Practices of Alamo Colleges District

Photo of female student on left; list of student-focused performance measures on right.
Credit: Alamo Colleges District
Five-Part Leadership Blog Series

In this five-part blog series on the 2018 Baldrige Award recipients’ leadership presentations at the 31st Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference (April 7–10, 2019), senior leaders of the five newest national role models share best practices and stories of how they achieved excellence.

Leadership “The Alamo Way”

Photo of Mike Flores 31st Quest for Excellence Speaker.
Dr. Mike Flores, Chancellor
Alamo Colleges District
2018 Baldrige Award Recipient
Speaking on leadership at the Baldrige Program’s 31st Annual Quest for Excellence Conference this year, Alamo Colleges District (ACD) Chancellor Mike Flores said he thinks of parents and students among those he considers “leaders.” He shared that his own parents both grew up in migrant farmer households in Texas and saw education as a key to economic and social mobility for themselves and then for their children.

Among the lessons of leadership that his father imparted to him—particularly through his own 30-plus-year career as an educator—is “service over self,” said Flores. In becoming the first Hispanic chancellor of Alamo Colleges District, Flores realized one of his father’s dreams: that his son would become the leader of the organization in which he worked. (His father both taught and was a dean for one of ACD’s colleges.)

Describing leadership as a cycle, Flores stated, “Leadership is about establishing goals, it’s about building trust, it’s about working toward a cause, and most importantly, it’s about preparing a new generation.” 

“A cycle of establishing goals; building trust and connecting with those you serve; working toward a cause to better your communities and, in some cases, the world. And preparing a new generation to follow in your footsteps: It’s easy to see in a parent-child relationship, but it works in all leadership relationships.”

Flores explained that ACD “lives the leadership cycle” through its mission, vision, and values. “We seek to empower each and every one of our distinct communities,” he said, paraphrasing his institution’s stated mission of “empowering our diverse communities for success.” The organization’s vision of being the best in the nation for student success and performance excellence is supported by its cultural values of putting students first, having a can-do spirit and respect for all, being data-informed and community-engaged, and promoting collaboration.

Putting students first, practicing principle-centered leadership, and achieving performance excellence are ACD’s three overarching priorities, defined as The Alamo Way. As part of this philosophy of education, ACD embraces the mantra “we have a leader in every seat” in regard to students, while also providing a leader in every classroom and office through high-performing faculty and staff members, according to Flores.

Serving a Large, Poor Population

Based in San Antonio with a service area that spans eight counties, ACD is the largest provider in south Texas of higher education and one of the largest community college systems within the state. It encompasses five community colleges: Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, St Philip’s College, and San Antonio College. Together, the colleges enroll more than 100,000 students. More than 70 percent have low incomes.

After stressing the higher salaries for graduates with advanced degrees, Flores said, “We want to ensure that every student has that opportunity.” To that end, since 2010, ACD has substantially increased the number and amount of the scholarships it awards to make education more affordable for its students. In addition, the number of two-year degrees and workforce training certificates awarded by ACD colleges has doubled between 2013 to 2017 to 12,750, which is three times the state norm.

“We worked to understand the needs of our community and deployed innovations that match those needs and the culture.  We implemented an advising program [AlamoADVISE] that allows students personalized coaching with certified advisors, at a ratio of 350 students to one advisor—much lower than the national average—to ensure they get on the right path and stay on the path, specifically because many of our student are first generation students with limited exposure to college life.”

Progress toward Excellence

Flores highlighted that four of ACD’s five colleges are currently ranked among the top 10 percent in the nation, as measured by the Aspen Institute’s 2019 Aspen Prize for community college excellence. Most recently, Palo Alto College also received a 2019 Rising Star Award from the Aspen Institute, which places Palo Alto College among the top 10 community colleges in the nation—the top 1 percent, noted Flores.Flores also presented key milestones of his organization’s Baldrige-based journey of excellence since 2007. For example, he pointed out that Northwest Vista College led the district in earning recognition for its performance by earning a Texas Award for Performance Excellence (TAPE) of the Quality Texas Foundation more than a decade ago. Last year, ACD’s St. Philip’s College received the TAPE.

Preparing a New Generation of Leaders

To demonstrate the leadership cycle, Flores shared how ACD students who have benefited from his institution’s education services, in turn, benefit their families and communities. For example, he described the successful path of Dorathy Tarpeh, a former student at St. Philip’s College who transferred to pursue the next level of her education to become a nurse. “St. Philip’s College and the Alamo Colleges District provided her with opportunity,” Flores said. “What she hopes to do is to provide that opportunity to her family and future generations.”

View more processes and results of Alamo Colleges District.

Five-Part Leadership Blog Series: Upcoming Blogs

Donor Alliance (Nonprofit)
Tri County Tech (Education)

Five-Part Leadership Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Integrated Project Management Company, Inc. (Small Business)
Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center (Health Care)

2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit cover artwork

Baldrige Excellence Framework

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

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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