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Column One: Teachers

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The Pinellas County, Fla., public schools have received a Sterling Award from Gov. Lawton Chiles for their efforts to mesh the principles of total-quality management with education.

In particular, the state's seventh-largest school district was recognized last month for its unusually cooperative relationship with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

Created by Governor Chiles, the Sterling Award was modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's most prestigious industrial honor related to quality management. Education, health care, and public-sector organizations were eligible to apply for the Florida competition in addition to manufacturing and service businesses.

The Pinellas County schools were the only public-sector organization to win an award.

The district, which has 13,000 employees and 97,000 students, for several years has been implementing the principles of total-quality management, which stress focusing on customers' needs and improving systems, rather than on evaluating individuals. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

Instead of engaging in traditional collective bargaining, said Doug Tuthill, the president of the association, the district and union now use a "strategic planning'' process to identify and solve problems jointly.

Teams made up of union representatives and district officials--and, in some cases, parents--work on issues such as creating more meaningful and productive employee evaluations.

"We have taken the collective-bargaining process,'' Mr. Tuthill explained, "and rolled it right into the quality transformation.''

In doing so, he noted, teachers have gained a much broader voice in setting district priorities and allocating the resources to see that they can be successful.

Adoption of the strategic-planning process does not mean that teachers no longer have a contract. But union leaders have talked about calling it a "handbook'' instead, Mr. Tuthill said, reflecting their view that the contract is a tool that should constantly evolve to meet the goal of improving the district.

The state team that visited Pinellas County was impressed by the "very collaborative and very strong human-management relationship'' there, said Dione Geiger, the executive director of the awards program.

The union "is part of the process of long-term planning,'' she said, "and that's what quality is. It's looking, long term, at where you're going.''--A.B.

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