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Nixon presses school accountability issue

Baldrige Performance Excellence Program touted

A statewide education conference aimed at improving Missouri’s schools drew four top Jefferson City Public School administrators to Columbia on Thursday, where they heard Gov. Jay Nixon applaud the state’s teachers, but also call for more accountability.

Held on the University of Missouri campus, the conference focused on teaching educators about Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Named for the Reagan-era Commerce secretary and administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the program recognizes excellence in the business, health care, non-profit and education sectors.

Nixon used the conference to emphasize his support for the Baldrige initiative. For Missouri to compete globally, he said students must graduate from high school ready to succeed.

“To accomplish that goal we need a comprehensive approach that includes not just more resources, but also higher expectations, greater accountability and a commitment to excellence at every level,” he said. “…the Baldrige program is an important tool to help schools deliver real results for our students and our economy.”

Although leaders in both the business and education communities have been talking about Baldrige for a few years, the program is gaining more prominence since a Columbia business couple — Larry and Brenda Potterfield — stepped forward with a $1 million offer to the first Missouri school district to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Larry Potterfield is the CEO of Midway USA, a catalog and online company that sells firearm accessories.

The Baldrige program — which started as a way to help manufacturers improve the quality of their products — has expanded its scope to cover other kinds of organizations. It works by asking participants to answer hundreds of questions about their leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, data analysis and human resources. Examiners also look at a group’s “results,” taking note of how an organization does financially or if it is outcompeting its peers.

Jefferson City Superintendent Brian Mitchell is keenly interested in the Baldrige program and has talked it up at previous school board meetings. He said it’s something his team has been focusing on for about two years.

“We’re one of the districts taking the lead and moving this statewide,” Mitchell said, noting the central office staff is participating in a “self-study” process.

The JCPS district is paying an organization — called the Excellence in Missouri Foundation — to help with that evaluation. However, neither Mitchell nor Foundation President Raina Knox knew offhand on Thursday how much the district is paying for those services.

Mitchell said the district isn’t going to compete for Potterfield’s million-dollar award.

“We’re just in it to get better,” Mitchell said.

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