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The Official Baldrige Blog

Tips from Baldrige Award-Winning Education Organizations

Cartoon illustration of students drawing in school

I’ve compiled the following tips from interviews of presenters at the Baldrige Program’s 26th Annual Quest for Excellence® conference.

How to Use the Baldrige Criteria to Improve a School System:

  • Talk with the staff involved: Help the staff to identify their priority areas for improvement, looking at the data you have to support that, and get them involved in identifying what the “big rocks” are. Sometimes it’s an easy win to get them involved in being part of the solution as well as identifying the problem. It’s not always what the leadership might see as a priority area; if workers see it as a major issue, then they tend to be more engaged in the improvement process and have more buy-in along the way.
  • Use the Baldrige Criteria and the Baldrige processes without using all the Baldrige terminology. Using language that is familiar to the workers is less overwhelming.
  • “Go slow to go fast”: Keep a pulse on your staff to see where they are in the transition process through both formal check-in meetings and informal conversations. You need to have a combination of that hard and soft data to monitor. You need some folks to tell you what the reality is on how things are going.

These tips are from Melanie Taylor, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction of Iredell-Statesville Public Schools (2008 Baldrige Award recipient, education). 

How to Conduct an Organizational Self-Assessment:

  • Use the “Are We Making Progress?” surveys as a starting point for using the Baldrige framework. These surveys—one for the senior leadership team and another for other employees (available for free download from the Baldrige Web site at—are based on the Organizational Profile questions in the Baldrige Criteria.
  • Once the survey results are in, pull together a cross-functional team to analyze the results and discuss potential answers to the questions from the Organizational Profile.
  • Conduct a gap analysis based on this work; it will likely provide several “jumping off points” for continuous improvement efforts in the organization.

These tips are from Lisa Muller, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Jenks Public Schools (2005 Baldrige Award recipient, education). 

How to Implement a New Curriculum:

Use a collaborative planning process to ensure that you are implementing the curriculum across your system systematically. Following are questions addressed by the school system at each step of the process:

1. Plan: What is the indicator or standard asking our students to do? What are the difficult points for teachers? Students? What are the connections to prior/future learning? How will the thinking and academic skills be addressed?

2. Do: What is acceptable evidence of proficiency with the indicator? What is the sequence of learning? How will we identify ways instruction can be adjusted to meet the needs of all learners?

3. Study: How will we know students are learning it? Review data points around multiple pathways.

4. Act: What do we do if they already know it? What do we do if they do not learn it?

These tips are from Rose Ann Schwartz, staff development teacher, and LaVerne Kimball, associate superintendent, at Montgomery County Public Schools (2010 Baldrige Award recipient, education). 

How to Create a Strategic Plan for a School District:

  • Determine your values and goals (from mission)
  • Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and an environmental scan.
  • Determine strategy areas and create action plans.
  • Publish and share the strategic plan with all.
  • Monitor and create accountability systems.

This tips are from Brian Kammers, vice president of the board of education, and Marty Van Hulle, principal of Pewaukee High School, for the Pewaukee School District (2013 Baldrige Award recipient, education).

How to Systematically Measure Your Organization’s Performance:

  • Design a system for your performance measurement and improvement that is repeatable and sustainable (Approach).
  • Involve all key groups in development of your performance measurement and improvement system and share the results widely (Deploy).
  • Make calm, clear-headed decisions based on the data analysis and regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the performance measurement process itself (Learn).
  • Align your performance measurement system with your organization’s mission, vision, values, and key work processes (Integrate).

These tips are from Fonda Vera, executive dean for planning, research, effectiveness, and development, and Bao Huynh, director of institutional effectiveness, at Richland Community College (2005 Baldrige Award recipient, education).


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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How about recommendations for Higher Education?
One of the best things to do is to get several people in the organization trained as examiners and have them begin to work through the criteria in their own minds and begin to use tools embedding them in the work. My personal experience as a 13+ year veteran of use of the criteria and systems approach is that when people see that they are enabled and equipped to address issues without human drama, amazing things happen. (worked in I-SS , KY turnaround environments and state department of ed)
Thanks for your comment, Susan. For those interested in applying to become Baldrige examiners for the 2015 award process, the online application will open November 25. More information on Baldrige examiners can be found on the website at

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