New Baldrige Award in Education Honors Alaska, New York Districts

By Rhea R. Borja — December 12, 2001 2 min read

Two school districts and a university were named last week as the first education winners in the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award competition.

The three education honorees are the 214-student Chugach school district in Anchorage, Alaska; the 2,460-student Pearl River district in Rockland County, N.Y.; and the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wis.

The Baldrige awards—established by Congress in 1987 and named for the 26th U.S. secretary of commerce—recognize companies and organizations in the categories of manufacturing, small business, the service sector, health care, and now education. Recipients are judged to have achieved excellence in leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management, and results.

Thirty-seven education organizations have applied for the award since 1999, the year education became a category. But this is the first year education organizations were deemed worthy of the honor. All applicants undergo 300 to 1,000 hours of review by an independent examining board.

“They will be outstanding role models for 21st- century education organizations,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans said of the honorees in a statement last week. “If we succeed in educating our youth, many other successes will follow.”

‘Still in Shock’

Alaska’s Chugach district, where 50 percent of students are Native Alaskan and 76 percent live in poverty, formed the Reinventing Schools Coalition to improve academic achievement. Since the program was started in 1998, the percentage of students taking college-entrance exams has increased from zero to 70 percent, and students’ scores on the California Achievement Tests have gone up.

“We’re still in shock—we haven’t recovered yet,” Superintendent Richard DeLorenzo said after learning his district had been honored. “This recognition will help us replicate what we’ve done. I hope this will inspire others to reinvent their school districts.”

Meanwhile, the Pearl River district has used a “continuous improvement” business model to raise student achievement there, said Sandra Cokely Pedersen, the quality and community-relations director for the New York district.

Since 1989, the percentage of students graduating with an academically rigorous state regents’ diploma has jumped from 32 percent to 86 percent.

“We knew [our program] worked, but it was wonderful to get outside validation,” Ms. Pedersen said. “We’ve built a formalized structure that has helped our district go from mediocre to world-class in the past 10 years.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as New Baldrige Award in Education Honors Alaska, New York Districts