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The Official Baldrige Blog

Measure What You Treasure, Advises Baldrige Award-Winning School District

Pewaukee School District Measure What You Treasure blog photo showing three middle school female student doing a science experiment with a two liter plastic bottle.
Credit: Pewaukee School District

A School District Embeds Quality Processes into its DNA

Why is it beneficial for a school district—as much as for organizations in other sectors—to establish systematic processes across its operations and continuously measure performance?

Having “quality processes that are embedded and part of the organization’s DNA” is the top benefit of using the Baldrige Excellence Framework, according to Pewaukee (WI) School District Chief Information and Technology Officer Amy Pugh. For her 2013 Baldrige Award-winning organization, as Pugh recently explained, by “embarking on our ‘Baldrige’ journey of continuous improvement, we quickly realized that educational organizations are businesses—we are in the people business.”

head shot of Amy Pugh
Amy Pugh

Pewaukee School District

2013 Baldrige Award Recipient
“Once we accepted this new lens,” she added, “we were able to focus on an integrated systems approach that has resulted in improving value to our ‘customers’ (students, parents) and stakeholders (employees, students, parents, community, partners, etc.). This has contributed to organizational sustainability and improved our effectiveness as a provider of quality education.”

Learn How Your School District Can Measure What You Treasure

At the Baldrige Program's upcoming Quest for Excellence® Conference in Baltimore, MD, Pugh will lead the session “Using Evidence to Measure What You Treasure.” She said the presentation will outline the processes and tools that Pewaukee School District uses to monitor its progress in key work areas.

“The session will focus on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of data collection called for in category 4 of the Baldrige framework, as well as evidence-based measures (how you know) and intentional review and use of data (what you do about it) to pursue quality improvement,” said Pugh. “The session also will focus on the use of progress monitoring tools such as scorecards and PDSAs (Plan-Do-Study-Act), with concrete examples and models provided.”

Tips For Using the Baldrige Excellence Framework

For other U.S. school districts interested in using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence) to develop systematic process management, Pugh offers the following tips:

Become an examiner (at least at the state level)!
There is an expectation in our organization that all members of the Administrative Team become trained examiners at the state level [through Baldrige-based award programs that are part of the nonprofit Alliance for Performance Excellence, partners of the national Baldrige Program]. We started this practice early in our QE journey and, to date, any administrators joining our team are expected to be trained within the first 2 years of joining our district. This allows is to “speak a common language”—one we call “Baldrigean”—and deepens our understanding of the Baldrige framework and Education Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Start small: Begin your QE journey by completing a self-assessment.
Choose from the many Baldrige improvement tools [selecting a method] that fits the current needs of your organization and involve various stakeholders in assessing the state of your organization as it relates to quality and continuous-improvement practices. From there, you may choose to begin your QE journey by completing the Organizational Profile, the prefatory section of the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Answering the questions in the Organizational Profile will allow senior leaders to further identify potential gaps in key performance areas, giving the organization some specific steps to put into action.

Frame of mind is important!
Remember that the journey is not about winning an award or about being perfect. It is about asking the right people the right questions in order to build processes for systemic improvement within the organization.

Pugh's Insights on Pewaukee School District's Journey

For her part, Pugh shared that she first heard about the Baldrige framework from her district’s former superintendent, Dr. JoAnn Sternke, who retired from the district last summer. As Pugh recalled, 

After hearing about this framework herself from a Pewaukee School District Board of Education member, JoAnn approached our Administrative Team and asked us to keep an open mind with what she was going to ask of us. She asked us to trust her on this new journey towards continuous improvement, and we did. At first, our heads were swimming, and our minds clouded with jargon and questions from a booklet we couldn’t begin to decypher. But as time passed and the team was examiner-trained (in cycles), our eyes were opened and our minds cleared (a bit, anyway). While [the journey may be] time-consuming and at times frustrating, we persevered and completed multiple cycles of learning that has [promoted] systemic change in our organization.

Pugh also recently described the milestones in her district’s journey of improvement, particularly in establishing systematic processes: 

Early in our QE [Quest for Excellence] journey, after receiving our first [Baldrige Criteria-based] feedback report from a state-level [Baldrige-based award program], we spent a summer deeply examining the processes (or lack of) that were in place across the organization.

In our first application, we had told our story of the “what” we did, not the “how” we did it. It was evident that we had significant opportunities for improvement in creating and deploying systemic processes in Pewaukee School District. We learned together as Administrative Team members about process management in education and the quality tools that would help us measure improved performance results across the organization, not just in student achievement or academics.

Processes that might have been known to a few in a department or location, were unwrapped, analyzed with a critical eye, and then documented both in narrative and flowchart forms. New processes were identified and documented; more important, our new and improved processes were shared with those stakeholder groups that were directly impacted by each. A review cycle was determined for each process (some yearly, some more often), with any changes or updates being shared as new knowledge to our stakeholders.

Today Pugh readily identifies herself among “firm believers in process management.” She said that when asked about any initiative in the district, she and others respond somewhat humorously, “We have a process for that!” 

Pugh also pointed out that having identified its key processes and process leaders (which is equally important, she stressed) helps an organization maintain its focus on systematic performance improvement during a leadership change. “When organizations focus on process (how) and not people (what or who), systemic change and cycles of continuous improvement are sustainable,” she said.

“For many decades, ... educational leaders [were] not looking outside of our sector for strategies that would impact organizational change,” noted Pugh. “The Baldrige framework ... has allowed our organization to ask the right questions, with the right people sitting at the table, leading to systemic improvement.”


Baldrige 30th Anniversary Logo artwork

Quest for Excellence® Conference

BALTIMORE | April 8–11, 2018
Join us for the 30th Anniversary Quest for Excellence Conference showcasing the best practices of the 2017 Baldrige Award recipients!


Sunday, April 8
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Dinner honoring the 2017 recipients.

Register Now | Book Your Hotel Room

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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