Guerilla Quality Management

By Abbott, James E. | Education, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Guerilla Quality Management


Abbott, James E., Education


The Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now (LEARN), was the creation of a group of business and community leaders to establish a framework to improve the public education system in Los Angeles.

Under the tutorage of the U.C.L.A. School of Education, and the Anderson School of Management, a summer training institute was created. Thirty-four schools fro the district, volunteered as a "leap of faith" to participate in an innovative program designed to reform a bureaucratic order that had consistently failed it students and opposed change.

A Lead Teacher and the principal from each of the volunteer schools engaged in professional development sessions which invited them to encourage more participation by all segments of the school community. The classified staff, parents, business partners, teachers and school administrators were inspired to envision what a quality school would be, first, as individuals, and then collectively. This collective, "shared vision"(1) would be the driving force of creating substantive, lasting change. The school community members--the stakeholders of the school--were encourage to work as a team. As active, team members, involved in the operation of the school, it was felt they could provid support for the development of a new school culture that would be more "custome oriented" and better able to meet the needs of the student body.

Time to Build Some Arks

Louis V. Gertsner, former Chairman and C.E.O. of R.J.R. Nabisco, once stated th now legendary Noah Principle:

"No more prizes for predicting rain, Prizes only for building Arks."

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education's decision to implement the LEARN process, set the table for some very serious "Ark building. The need for a shared vision to unite all stakeholders so that the past problem of mistrust, mismanagement and low morale could be overcome was evident. School had to be reinvented!

One of the major themes of the summer training program was that each school had to create a new school vision that would value the development of a quality educational program. This could be accomplished if each school developed its ow personal roadmap to challenge what they had been doing--in the name of education--and through the logic of examination, open debate and the study of alternative solutions, improve the existing school culture. The new strategic resource of a school was the people. The old bureaucratic order would have to b replaced with knowledgeable, informed and creative individuals.(2)

The restructuring of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District could not be allowed to be derailed into the schism that has befallen so many other school districts. Restructuring, for many of these districts, was more "style" than substance. In most cases the changes incurred were--in fact--in "name" only. What passed for reform in these instances was little more than rearrangin the deck chairs while aboard the Titanic.

True reclamation of schools could not be accomplished by performing "window dressing," it could only be brought to life by building a new, effective school model that would be increasingly more responsible for the actual operation of the school and accountable for student achievement. It would take the construction of a compelling learning organization. It would require designing new ship of state. It would take the building of an Ark.

Dr. Roland Barth, in his, Improving Schools from Within, calls for a community of learners. He envisions a stakeholder group which values the importance of dialogue, risk taking and engaging in lifelong learning(3) as being essential t the success of a school. Such a school would be successsful because it would be able to incorporate effective methods of monitoring the delivery of the instructional program and determining collaboratively, how to improve daily teaching activities.

The problems of low achievement, high dropout rates, inefficiency, lack of commitment and surrendering responsibility for preparation of students for the world of work, are not limited to the Los Angeles Unified School District. …

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