Schools of Quality: an experiment in cooperation

The quest for quality in community education

By John Leuenberger - Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit

Just as the quality movement began as a dream of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, when working to bring the concept of quality management to the Japanese, so too did the quest for quality begin in the Greater Erie area in Pennsylvania.

Our quest for quality began through the efforts of Mr. Donald Diplacido, director of the Greater Erie Area Chamber of Commerce, and William DeCrease, president of the Erie Excellence Council* and founder of the World Center on Community Quality.

Excellence in Erie-area education

One of the most active committees within the Erie Excellence Council has been the Academic Committee, which under the able direction of Mr. Verle Salmon, a local educator and quality enthusiast, set about developing a mission statement and accompanying strategies.

The challenge: involving 17 separate school districts in quality improvement

When the overall vision was completed, the next task centered around involving seventeen school districts within the greater Erie area in making that vision a reality. This enormous coordinating effort fell to the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit, an educational agency responsible for the support and enhancement of its participating districts.

Issue number one: training...

It was apparent early on that success would require the training of a large number of staff in the use of the tools of quality. Such training would help us carry out the action goals and mission statement established by the Erie Excellence Council's Academic Committee.

Our training started at the top...

Our first step was to train the seventeen superintendents as well as key administrative staff members of the intermediate unit in the philosophy and the use of tools of quality. This was no small task since many of the districts were gearing up for the development of a state mandated educational strategic plan. When most agreed to participate they didn't anticipate the immeasurably positive impact that the quality philosophy and tool training would have on their strategic planning process.

The superintendents began their training process during a retreat with a total quality management consultant. During the retreat, they decided that portion of the area superintendents' monthly advisory meeting agenda would be devoted to further study of quality management issues.

In-service training for 3,000+ teachers and administrators...

Following the initial training of the superintendents, our next step - planning and completing in-service training of over three thousand line administrators and classroom teachers - turned out to be the most complex step. Successfully training these individuals (who would be responsible for the implementation of quality at both the building and classroom levels) was a critical step toward attaining our vision.

Innovation for in-service training: conference training

The first in-service meeting involving line administrators and teachers was held the 1991 North Coast Quality Week.

Gathering legitimacy and support during the initial training...

We sought, and received, support from a number of highly qualified individuals during that first session as a means to assure that the program maintained credibility and future assistance with the planning. During the conference, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Donald Carroll and past State Secretary of Education, (then Federal Department of Education Regional Representative) Dr. Kay Wright offered their advice and encouragement. Creativity and paradigm shifting expert, Joel Barker added his encouragement and reconfirmed his ten year commitment to the Erie Project during the conference. Dr. D. Edwards Deming, Dr. Myron Tribus, founder of the community quality movement, and Dr. Stephen Covey all added their support during their separate appearances at the North Coast Quality Week.

The Quality Education Day program received guarded acceptance. Many participants remained skeptical as to the applicability of quality to their classroom practices. While the planning for the 1993 program was in progress, many of the districts as well as the intermediate unit, were involved in the training of quality teams. The materials used in the team training were those developed by Carol and David Schwinn.

Listening to customers and further training...

The question of how applicable quality management was in education was fully addressed during the 1993 North Coast Quality Week Quality Education Day. A great deal of planning time was committed to studying what the customer was telling us through a review of the 1992 program evaluation forms. Continuous improvement became the driving standard.

Four thousand receive the message and say: we want more training...

Using the evaluation results, the planning committee decided to invite Ms. Candice Allen, the Colorado teacher of the year, to deliver the major address. The program was very well received by the audience of over four thousand. While the audience praised the presentation, the evaluations again stressed the need for continued skill development in the use of quality tools.

Moving from inspiration and persuasion to practical tools...

To illustrate "how quality tools can work in the classroom", the theme for the 1993 program, the planning committee invited Robert Page (a director of Goal/QPC) for the program. A ninety minute videotape highlighting classroom applications of six quality tools and featuring Page was produced and directed by Chris Silverthorn, director of communications at the intermediate unit.

The videotape was broadcast during the morning session to all of the participating schools and the general public, over the local public television broadcasting network. In the afternoon, the districts attending participated in thirty breakout sessions by academic discipline or grade level. The program received excellent evaluations.

Training for 1994

The planning for the 1994 combined in-service program is still in progress. A committee is hard at work developing the program agenda. Because of the success of the 1993 program, it is highly likely that the program for 1994 will take a similar format. It is hoped that Myron Tribus will be a featured participant in the televised morning session, with the afternoon being divided into departmental and subject area meetings. We have also made tentative arrangements with Joel Barker to work with 100 of our students on a quality project.

We have come a long way since we began in 1987 and still have a long road to travel before the fruits of our efforts become recognizable on a grand scale. Some districts have accepted the challenge and have made tremendous strides. Others, however, are still in the starting blocks.

Here in Erie, Pennsylvania, we have made a commitment to quality: a commitment that will provide our students with the tools and skills needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

This article was originally published in the Journal for Quality and Participation and is copywritten by the Association for Quality and Participation, 801-B W. 8th St., Suite 501, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203, Tel: 513-381-1959, Fax 513-381-0070: all rights reserved. You may download and print it for your own personal use. If you wish to share it with others by photocopying, e-mail or by placing it on another online service; reprint it in a newsletter, or reprint all or a portion of it in a book for resale, or in a packet included in a course for fee you should contact Ned Hamson, editor at the address or numbers above or at for permission.

"This is the time, we are the people, let's work together... Now!"

About the author:

John Leuenberger, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Northwest Tri-county Intermediate Unit. He began his education career as a teacher in the Fox Chapel Area School District. During his career he has served as a high school principal and school superintendent in Beaver, Pennsylvania.