The Carlington Summit
by Tony Charbonneau, Principal.

When the school staff developed a mission statement a few years ago, “quality” was first and foremost on their minds. The school has been working hard striving to achieve it in a number of ways, but quality doesn't come easily. We have learned that we can't do it alone - it really does take a whole village to educate a child.

To achieve a quality school, we need support and help from a lot of people. We discovered that we had to establish a real partnership among all those involved: students, staff, parents, the Board, and the community. Koalaty Kid is such a partnership.

Koalaty Kid is a project of the Ottawa Valley Section of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). It was introduced to Ottawa about four years ago when our Catholic School Board heard about it and expressed an interest.

Basically, Koalaty Kid is a way of thinking about continuous improvement at school, in a “can-do” atmosphere. A Koalaty Kid school aims at creating a school environment where all students sustain enthusiasm for learning, behave responsibly, feel proud of themselves and their achievements, and strive to meet high standards. All schools, of course, want this for their students but not all schools are successful in getting what they want.

What makes Koalaty Kid schools special is that they really can become successful by learning a systematic approach to continuous improvement. School teams apply the principles and tools of quality to make the changes they deem important. The four key factors are active involvement of the whole school community, committed leadership, the employment of a system for continuous improvement, and an environment that celebrates successes.

Koalaty Kid uses a total quality methodology for bringing about change in organizations. This positive approach focuses on continuous improvement (as opposed to finding fault and blaming). Total quality looks at a work task as a process-a sequence of related steps that can be examined for improvement opportunities. Teams undertake systematic changes through the method: plan the changes, do (implement) them, study the results by measuring changes, and act to adjust the plan, based on what was learned.

This repetitive cycle emphasizes establishing consistent standards of excellence, setting and communicating clear expectations, involving all who have a stake in the outcome in the improvement process, measuring results, and recognizing and rewarding success. Using a set of quality “tools,” teams define a system, assess a situation, analyze causes, try out improvement theories, study results, standardize improvement, and plan continuous improvement.

Using this approach, teams begin by identifying targets for improvement. Then they work toward achieving these by establishing standards of excellence, communicating clear expectations, involving all stakeholders (everyone who has an interest in the process or the outcome), managing the processes, measuring progress, and recognizing and rewarding success.

This is St. Elizabeth School's second year as a member of Koalaty Kid, an Alliance of hundreds of schools throughout North America. In these schools, students understand that they are expected to do their best work the first time and every time, and to treat others with courtesy and respect.

Teams, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, sponsors, and others manage many ongoing operations and tackle the school's toughest problems.

In the first year, our partnership was established, and a team of five teachers and the chairperson of our School Council, learned about the ideas of quality and trained in how to use quality tools. This year, we are trying out our learnings in a project to help students in grade three become better writers. Also, we are starting to organize our school according to the principles of quality, and using the quality tools in as many ways as we can. Our goal for next year, is to ensure that all of the major decisions at school will involve the Koalaty Kid approach to achieve our own objectives.

Sponsors representing businesses, institutions, ASQ sections, and other organizations get involved with local schools by providing expertise in quality management or funding for special needs, and/or volunteering to help. Along with our Board, our school has two other sponsors: Navatar and Sixth Chord Productions. CEO's Susan Wimperis and Steve Main are unabashed supporters of our efforts, and passionate advocates of quality public education. Their faith in our school, and their enthusiasm for Koalaty Kid, is wonderful and we certainly appreciate their support.

In April of this year, our school team (including our Superintendent of Education) had the opportunity of participating in the 11th Annual Koalaty Kid Conference. This international gathering of school communities in Sacramento, California, was a great experience for our school team. In this city where the California gold rush started, it became clear to us that quality is more than a flash-in-the-pan.

The attainment of quality requires a life-long commitment. We are just at the beginning of our journey toward quality, and we face our share of “growing pains”, set-backs, and obstacles. In California, others on this journey taught us that this is normal, and that we can deal with them. We are confident that all of this is worth it, and that it will make a real difference in our lives and the lives of our students.