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Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Indiana Agency Hopes To Change the Way It Conducts Business

Indiana Agency Hopes To Change the Way It Conducts Business

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On the heels of a new law that raises the performance bar for Indiana's K-12 students, the state education department is setting higher expectations for itself as well.

Officials at the Indiana Department of Education are drawing on the criteria used for the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, an honor that typically recognizes performance excellence in business.

"We are already working hard, but this is the next step," said state schools Superintendent Suellen Reed, a Republican. "We will identify responsibilities and connect the dotted lines."

The Baldrige Award is named after U.S. Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, who died in 1987. Mr. Baldrige was a strong advocate of quality management as a key to national prosperity and strength.

Today, the Indiana department is among a handful of state education agencies turning to the award's seven-point selection criteria for guidance on retooling themselves from regulatory bodies to user-friendly providers of help to schools. Specifically, the Baldrige model calls on organizations to examine their performance in such areas as leadership, data-gathering and use, customer satisfaction, and strategic planning.

When it comes to management strategies and a focus on customers, education is where business was 15 years ago, said Peggy Siegel, the director of business/education leadership initiatives for the National Alliance of Business, located in Washington.

"You have to distinguish between 'will' and 'skill,' " she said. "As state education departments downsize, and the public looks at them to deliver, the 'will' question is gone, and people want to know how to do a better job."

Hoosier Hopes

A recent Education Week survey shows that Indiana has already made some changes at its education agency: In 1980, the department had 397 employees, but last year it had only 271.

Indiana, which adopted a rigorous new student-accountability law this year, will begin its education department improvement effort with a yearlong process that includes reviewing mission statements and agency objectives, and holding briefings to let employees know that things are changing.

Next year, the department will use $200,000 appropriated this legislative session to provide staff development in the Baldrige model.

The immediate goal will be to review and define the agency's mission and then determine whether the department's time and efforts are spent providing services consistent with that mission. If not, officials say, changes will be made in staff assignments and funding.

"There are a lot of people who will think this is the quality 'flavor of the month,'" said Risa Regnier, the director of human resources for the department of education. "If it's not done right, and we don't spend a lot of time with people, it will be the flavor of the month."

But if all goes well, the state agency will set a management example for Indiana schools and districts. Education departments in Florida, New Jersey, and North Carolina are also using or exploring the Baldrige model.

"Some people say, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' " Ms. Reed said. "We're going to say, 'Do as we do.' We want to model the process and have our people talk about it in the field."

By improving services to help schools reach higher learning goals, state education agencies could regain the favor of lawmakers who have targeted them for budget cuts in recent years.

"The perception among policymakers is that [education agencies] are not doing the right work," said Jim Watts, the vice president for state services for the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta.

"If agencies begin the transformation to focusing on results, then I argue they will have new support from policymakers," he added.

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 24

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