This variation on an old rhyme could be the song of students at an elementary school in Chandler, Arizona. It's a school whose management employs total quality techniques, such as team decision making and customer surveys. It's a school that prepares students for the business environment by teaching them such skills as collaboration, time management and how to manipulate technology. And it's a school that's serving as a model for an entire school district on how business can influence education.
The school, Kyrene de la Mirada, was designed with the help of the Chandler facility of Santa Clara, California-based Intel Corp. Through sponsorships of training, service on task forces and modeling of business techniques, the semiconductor manufacturer partnered with the Kyrene school district in the creation and management of the school. The partnership has been mutually beneficial for everyone involved. The school and the district, drawing on the resources of Intel, have been able to transfer effective business practices to the business of education. Intel, in turn, has had the opportunity to invest in its workers' children's educations, and influence the education of its future work force.
How it all began.
The partnership started as simply an ideal, expressed by Kyrene School District board members and Intel managers at a conference in 1991 called Chandler Today. However, the opportunity to turn the dream into reality surfaced not long after the conference, when the school district began making plans to build the new elementary school. It just so happened that three of the ten acres zoned for a new school belonged to Intel.
John Swain, public affairs manager, contacted Lisa Guillerman, K-12 education manager at the time, and told her that Kyrene had requested to buy the land. The pair sat down with senior management and discussed their options. Guillerman brought up the fact that, because the school was still in the planning stages, this would be a perfect opportunity for Intel to really have some influence on it—a goal of the K-12 program at Intel, which at the time reported to the human resources department. Says Guillerman, who is now working for The Guillerman Group in San Francisco: "Intel realized that it needed to become actively involved in education in those communities in which it resides, because its future employees will more than likely be individuals who were raised in the school systems surrounding it."
Adds Louis Baca, current manager of the K-12 education programs for Arizona: "We also want to be involved in the education of employees' children to attract the best people possible, the best work force currently available. And we want to be good citizens."
To initiate the partnership, Swain suggested that Intel donate the land to Kyrene, with the condition that the district allow Intel to be a partner with it in the development and management of the new school. "What we wanted was a joint venture with the school district," Guillerman says.
The partnership was a natural fit. The focus of Intel's K-12 program, and therefore its role in the development of Mirada school, is to enhance the math, science and technology programs of schools, with a special emphasis on providing opportunities for females and underrepresented minorities. "We know that the work force of the future will be a very diverse work force," says Baca. "So in helping to prepare the work force of the future, not only for Intel but for all technical industries, we believe that we best contribute in areas that we know: math, science and technology."
The district also intended to focus on math, science and technology for the next three to five years, so it readily accepted Intel as a partner. "Intel said that it would like to partner with us to create a model school," says Bob Hetzel, assistant superintendent for educational leadership at the Kyrene school district. "They said, 'we really want a chance to work directly with you to make our schools the best possible because it's in our best interest.'"
For the school district, the partnership meant an opportunity to learn what type of training future workers really needed, and a rare chance to transfer proven business practices, such as total quality management, to the educational system. Says Nancy Ballinger, who managed the partnership from Intel's end as a K-12 coordinator: "Intel's role in the partnership was to help set up an organizational structure that would help them be successful, and provide Intel resources and leadership to that organizational structure to help identify strategies and task forces and barrier busters to help speed the process along."
Adds Margy Kintz, manager of corporate contribution, which now heads the company's K-12 program: "It aligned with our whole philosophy of K-12, which is that we believe in being full partners. We don't believe in checkbook investments. We select projects and organizations in which we can participate as partners, contributing our technological expertise, business knowledge and various other resources."
At any one time during the school's development, anywhere from ten to 50 Intel employees would be involved in serving on committees or task forces, training school personnel or installing equipment. With the exception of Ballinger, whose job it was to manage the partnership, the employees volunteered their time through Intel's public affairs department.
Turning a vision into reality.
The first major activity to kick off the partnership was a two-day visioning conference in January 1992, led by Chicago-based Arthur Anderson. The purpose of the conference was to involve students, teachers, administrators, parents and Intel employees in examining where the school district was at that point in time, envisioning what Mirada school should be, and planning steps for getting there. Together, the 50 or so participants created the partnership's vision, which is:
- To create a need-fulfilling school for students, parents, teachers, community and business partners
- To produce students who are self-directed, lifelong learners and able to be the student/worker of the future
- To include parents as full partners in their children's educations
- To create a "World-class" instructional program with emphasis on communications, science and math
- To create a technology-rich environment for learners
- To create a quality/cooperative school in which people cheer for one another's learning, work together to get things done and are committed to taking responsibility for continuous improvement.
Encouraged by the enthusiasm at the conference and by the results achieved, Intel and Kyrene held a second one-day visioning conference in April for anyone who wasn't able to attend the first. Out of the two sessions emerged the structure for Mirada's management. Because of the partnership's goal to meet the needs of students, teachers, parents, community and business partners, all agreed that the school should be managed by a site-based steering committee composed of representatives from each constituency. Ballinger and Pat O'Brien, Mirada's principal, led the committee and solicited volunteers from among the student body, the parents, the teachers and the school's classified staff—librarians, secretaries, custodians and the like—to serve. Ultimately, the committee comprised two fourth-grade students, two parents, two teachers, two Intel representatives, one person from Mirada's classified staff and O'Brien.
The steering committee met biweekly and provided the direction for the school. "The whole focus on educational reform—site-based management, total quality learning—were embodied in the steering committee," says Baca. "They were the ones who did the day-to-day implementation, monitoring, report receiving and providing of input and feedback to the individual teams that have been created at the school."
The teams to which Baca refers were task forces, put together for every element of the project. For example, there was a task force for landscaping and furnishing the school, for staffing, for contingency planning, and even for deciding on school colors and mascot (see Task Forces Set the Steering Committee to Action). Each task force contained, as much as possible, a representative from each "partner." "There were all kinds of decisions to be made, from what type of playground equipment to purchase to what the school's discipline plan should look like," says O'Brien. "The steering committee couldn't make all of those decisions itself, so we commissioned task forces, gave them charged statements, and told them what we needed from them—either a decision, a recommendation or a product."
The task forces carried out the directives of the steering committee. Then, once a month, the steering committee made a report to a Management Review Committee (MRC), composed of two high-level business managers within Intel; two high-level school administration personnel—the school superintendent and the assistant superintendent for instruction—and a member of the school board.
The partnership modeled the MRC after a similar committee at Intel. The role of the company's committee is to evaluate the progress of projects, provide the project teams with direction and be barrier busters. In other words, if critical projects aren't on track, this committee acts as problem solvers, providing resources, procedural advice—whatever is needed.
The school adopted the concept, making the MRC responsible for dealing with any serious problems in the partnership or with the specific project of Mirada. "Our job was to make sure that the way the system normally works didn't impede in any way what we were trying to do," says Hetzel. "It really meant having both the upper management people at Intel and at Kyrene acknowledge that, because this project was different, there would be some resistance inside the system. So a major role we had was, as we encountered resistance, to look for ways to circumvent it and fulfill the mission that we had with Mirada."
A glimpse into the actual building of the school illustrates how the process worked. The steering committee laid out a timetable of critical events, things that had to happen, based on input from the task forces assigned to school design, landscaping, playground equipment, and so forth. Every month, O'Brien and Ballinger reported to the MRC whether the project was on time, behind, or ahead of schedule.
Part way through the process, building was delayed approximately six weeks because of heavy rains. The MRC, as the problem-solving committee, went to work to try to bring construction back on schedule. Each committee member contacted someone who he or she thought could help. For example, the representatives from the school district got together with the construction manager and the general manager to create a plan for getting back on schedule and determine what the costs of this would be, which they calculated to be $500,000. The Intel reps then brought in their own construction managers to offer suggestions on how to reduce the price. Together, the team was able to reduce the cost to $25,000 and begin working on making up the delay.
Meanwhile, the steering committee began developing contingency plans in case the building wasn't finished in time. For example, plan A would be to start school as scheduled but hold it in empty rooms at other schools in the district; plan B would be to delay the opening of the school; and plan C would be to get the school at least safe and start school in it anyway.
The steering committee then commissioned a task force made up of parents, teachers, students and Intel representatives to make specific recommendations to the steering committee on each of those scenarios.
The process wasn't easy.
Team decision making was effective, albeit slow, as team management was something new for a school. O'Brien admits: "I'd worked in schools before and had been a strong advocate for corroborative learning, but I'd never actually worked with a council or a committee of people in terms of managing and guiding the school. Most of my training and my achievement had been primarily as the old idea of a strong instructional leader singularly responsible for achieving a vision."
O'Brien wasn't alone. Most of the school's teachers and staff, as well as parents and district representatives, had never done any team management. So this is one area where Intel had significant input. The company relies greatly on team effort and cultivates a team culture. Ballinger had a strong training background and was able to coordinate some crash courses in effective meetings for the teachers and community members. "We did some minisessions on how a group could work together as a team and hold effective meetings," says O'Brien. Some of the tools that Intel taught team members were making and keeping agendas, data gathering, brainstorming and using multivoting techniques.
Intel sponsored and taught numerous other training sessions for teachers and staff. The company designated $10,000 in its K-12 funds for Mirada's needs during the 1993-94 school year, a large portion of which was used to provide training. Intel employees themselves did some of the training, such as teaching teachers how to use various technology.
In addition, Intel started a summer job program at the Chandler facility for teachers to learn about the business environment. The teachers did such varying jobs as developing a curriculum for the training department to doing documentation in the engineering department. Intel paid the teachers their regular salaries for the eight to twelve weeks they were there.
Mimi Cordalis, a teacher and library technician at Mirada who served on the steering committee, worked two summers at Intel. The first year she worked in the public affairs department helping to develop a rideshare program. The following summer, because she had been the "unofficial photographer" at Mirada, she was assigned the project of putting together a multimedia presentation showing the progress of the partnership. Cordalis enjoyed the experience and has been able to transfer much of what she learned to her teaching job.
Part of what she learned had to do with the work environment itself. For example, she says, "I found that they worked a lot in teams and relied on employees to have good people skills that would help them contribute to a team," she says. "So when I went back to school, I better understood the purpose of putting kids in collaborative groups and having them work with their classmates. I saw the direct tie-in that that would have for them in the work world."
She also saw how less structured Intel workers were as far as their work days. They had specific goals and tasks that they had to accomplish, but they basically were in control of their own schedule. This was much different than the schedule of a teacher, who must meet his or her students at a particular time, teach for a specified amount of time, and so on. "We're trying now to work with kids on this so that they understand they're going to be in control of part of their time in the day and they need to make some good decisions on how to use their time," Cordalis says. She adds that she has fifth-graders serving on a technology task force who all carry calendars with them now, marking down meeting dates and schedules. "So it's really had a lot of carryover to what we're doing with each other and also with the students."
While at Intel for the summer jobs, Mirada staff can participate in any training sessions that may take place, such as those on problem-solving. Teachers also are encouraged to take classes at Intel University.
Infusing total quality management into the school.
Besides the training that Intel teaches itself, the company also sponsors other training programs for Mirada staff. One important training program Intel paid for and sent teachers to was a total quality learning program taught by David Langford of the Institute for Total Quality in Billings, Montana. "He had already taken the total quality methods and translated them to education," says Ballinger. "So given Intel's knowledge around total quality tools as they relate to business, and this marriage of the educational approach to using total quality management, Intel was able to help speed up the teachers' learning curve."
One of the processes that the teachers learned at these sessions is called Plus/ Delta—a process that involves a group in identifying the positives and negatives of a meeting, training session, project, or whatever, and then evaluating how to improve upon the negatives. For example, when conducting a Plus/Delta to evaluate a meeting, a negative identified may be that there's been a decrease in the number of parent volunteers in attendance. So, the Delta would be assigning every team member the task of bringing at least one parent to the next meeting.
O'Brien says that this technique has even caught on in the classrooms. All of the fourth-grade teachers, for example, at the end of a nine-week period, did a Plus/Delta with their students on everything that was taught and done during that period, from spelling to recess. "It's a good continuous improvement tool," O'Brien says. "We're trying to create a culture that says, 'Problems are our friends' and this really helps with that."
Another tool related to total quality that Mirada adapted from Intel is behavioral interviewing of the teaching staff. "The best predictor of future performance is past performance," says Ballinger, "so instead of asking questions in an interview such as, 'What would you do if...?' you say, 'Tell us about a time when…"
Ballinger taught the steering committee how to do behavioral interviewing based on materials purchased from Paul Green, a consultant for Memphis, Tennessee-based Behavioral Technology. Ballinger helped the group create a list of competencies required of teachers by asking the two kids on the committee what's important in a teacher, and then comparing what they said with what the teacher representative said and what O'Brien said. The group identified six skills most important for this particular school, including team building and discipline attitudes, and developed questions that aligned with those characteristics.
Having trained the steering committee on behavioral interviewing, the school engaged in team interviewing of teacher candidates. The team consisted of all the steering committee members, including the two fourth-graders as their time permitted (once school started they were involved in afterschool sports and activities). O'Brien and Ballinger tell a story of how the kids chose a question to ask the candidates along the lines of "How have you handled a dogmatic person in the past?" Ballinger tried to talk them out of using the word dogmatic, telling the kids that she herself feels more comfortable saying something like, a person who's hard to get along with. "Courtney looked me in the eye and said, "I like dogmatic, I'm going to use it," says Ballinger.
The teacher candidates were taken somewhat aback when asked this question by the kids. The students took their role seriously, however, even asking if they needed to repeat the question if the candidate danced around it by answering something like, "I've never met a dogmatic person I didn't like." "One candidate asked, 'Now Courtney, do you really know what dogmatic means?'" says Ballinger. "She defined it pretty closely so we let her keep asking that question."
The students gave input into the decision-making process as well. The group collectively calculated numerical scores, discussed the interviews and made hiring decisions.
Other total quality tools that Mirada picked up from Intel and from the training the company provided it have to do with customer service. It now does an annual report for the school and a customer survey completed by teachers, parents and students. The school gives each group the same set of questions that pertain to Mirada's vision. The survey takers give numerical scores of one (not even in the ballpark) to five (meeting and exceeding expectations) to questions asking where the school is in terms of each vision statement. They also have opportunity to offer comments. For example, to the question related to creating an environment in which learning is celebrated, both teachers and students related that, yes there are some classrooms that are operating in that manner, but not all. "We're trying to do more surveying or data gathering and then problem solving based on data," says O'Brien.
The school employs continual improvement principles.
The partners extended this data-gathering process at the end of the school's first year when it held a Reflection Day. Parents, teachers, students, school district members and Intel employees all gathered to do a Plus/Delta process for the year just past, and a revisioning for the future.
The day began with the group playing a board game, developed by the Rand Corp., that helped set a context for talking about organizational change. "We set the stage for relating the fact that change is a journey," O'Brien says.
The first half of the meeting focused on change because it's something that doesn't happen easily at a school. "One of the things school districts face is that people don't like the idea of too much change in the lives of their kids," says Hetzel.
Certainly, reactions from parents regarding issues affecting their children can be strong. But Mirada found buy-in to change similar to how it often happens in business. There were approximately 20% of people who readily accepted change and actually pushed for it to happen. At the other end of the spectrum, there were 20% of people who didn't want any kind of change, even resisting it. And in the middle were the 60% of people who adapted, going along with the crowd.
The differences between business and education, however, is as Ballinger says: "In education, you can't leave a market behind." All through the process, therefore, Ballinger and O'Brien constantly communicated with parents and the community through community meetings. Also, just having Intel as a partner helped push change. "The partnership gives tremendous credibility for any kind of innovation," Hetzel says. "We've found that having Intel alongside of us saying, 'this is a good idea,' gives us credibility beyond anything that we can have standing alone as educators."
This type of positive response was prevalent during the afternoon of the Reflection Day when the group evaluated everything from whether the steering committee was operating efficiently to whether the schoolwide discipline process was appropriate. "We all knew that we had lofty goals and it was nice to know that we've made some progress," says Baca. "We also know that there's a lot of work to do, but we're excited about the progress we've made thus far."
Although the progress made was deemed positive, the group acknowledged that it took longer to reach their intended goals than they had anticipated. "I think we all thought this process would go faster than it did," Cordalis says. "It goes slow," mainly because of group decision making.
In addition, it was acknowledged during the Reflection Session that it was difficult to really measure what results had occurred. To remedy the situation, Mirada adopted another business tool from Intel that the company calls management by planning. This is a process by which the senior management of the corporation develops strategic objectives that then get carried out by identifying tactics and measurable indicators. "The school took a look at this and said, 'you know, we have a nice vision and mission statement but we need a process for measuring our progress toward those objectives," says Baca.
The school enlisted the help of Hilda Roy, new college graduate and new technical graduate sourcing manager for Intel in Arizona—who teaches management by planning within the corporation—to teach this concept to the school. Roy began by giving O'Brien and Assistant Principal Karen Douglas an overview of the MBP process. She then worked with them for a total of approximately 20 hours to develop a strategic plan. They identified four strategic objectives—to create a technological environment, to develop a world-class curriculum in math and science, to enlist parents as full partners and to continuously improve. Under each objective, they then identified the tactics needed to accomplish them, quarterly goals, long-term goals, measurable indicators and owners of the process.
For example, for the strategic objective that's stated: "Provide Mirada an environment that encourages learning and use of technology needed to enhance students' learning as well as teacher productivity," one strategy listed to achieve this objective is to introduce and educate teachers and students on the use of learning and productivity software tools. The indicators are the number of products developed using these tools, such as presentations, reports, announcements, correspondence, and so on. The overall goal is to introduce four learning and productivity programs per year per grade level. The quarterly goals, then, are steps toward this overall goal, such as installing the software needed on all teachers' PCs in all the classrooms, and delivering a minimum of three classes for teachers and three for students.
The owners of the objectives, in this case the technical implementation person at the school and the technical task force leader, report their progress to the steering committee, which in turn reports to the management review committee. "It has helped the school to get better support from the parents and the teachers, and to reduce the level of frustration," says Roy. "It has given it the ability to put a lot of things that were in different heads into a document that serves as a blueprint."
Adds O'Brien: "It represents for me the influence that business is having on education. When you hear the terms strategic plan, customer survey and empowerment in the context of education, you can see how the world of business and the world of education are overlapping, which I think is good."
The partnership expands to the school district.
The process has been so beneficial to the school that it has now spread to the entire Kyrene school district. "The district was impressed with the progress the school made in a short period of time and asked me if I could come to the district offices and train all of the directors and principals in the district on management by planning," says Roy.
This is reflective of how the partnership has evolved. For the first two years, it was focused on the development of Mirada. "Now," says Hetzel of Kyrene, "we're at a point in which Mirada is up and running. It's still evolving, but the real focus now is on looking at how this partnership can more directly benefit the whole school district."
Adds Baca: "We know we need to work with school districts in leveraging the programs that we implement so that the impact on the student body is more far reaching than focusing on just one school."
In addition to the management by planning training given by Roy to other schools in the district, Intel employees have volunteered hours of time helping schools implement technology. The school and the district also right now are working on creating mentor relationships between teachers and Intel employees, giving the teachers a link to business.
The partnership is a model of what can be done if business and education work together. "Intel realizes that criticizing public schools accomplishes nothing, but working with them has the potential to accomplish a great deal," Hetzel says. "That alone does so much for the morale of school people. It enhances our capacity as a district to think more broadly, to dream a little bit more, knowing that we have people who are willing to work alongside of us to make something happen. Mirada was the spring board. We've now expanded our horizons as to what the partnership can do and perhaps the magnitude of the influence it could have. It's nice that our partnership isn't about money; it's really about ideas and the future. That's what makes it so successful."
According to Ballinger, the partnership has been "wildly successful" in terms of how much progress has been made in a short period of time. "We had this dream about what it could be, but in looking back, we were blown away at how much we had all grown and how much we were able to accomplish."
Indeed, in four years, using input from teachers, parents, students, school district personnel and business representatives, Intel and its partners have built a school from scratch—a school that teaches not only reading, writing and 'rithmetic but prepares students for the world of work by developing their team skills, technological skills and problem-solving techniques.
Says Guillerman: "This helped validate how industry could be involved in change in schools and how it could drive and help partner in the building of something new, different and great."
Personnel Journal, April 1995, Vol. 74, No. 4, pp. 128-138.