Community Good Service Grant for Lean in School District

The School District of Ashland, in Ashland, WI, recently received a Community Good Works (CGW) grant to help implement a lean program throughout the district. Superintendent Peggy Smith, who has some background in quality programs, learned about CGW grants from LPR Publications, an education newsletter for grant funding.

“I thought this might be an opportunity for us,” Smith, who is in her second year in the district, said. “When I came, the district had been approached by a local, manufacturing business, CG Bretting, and they have been very zealous in trying to share the good news about lean.”

CG Bretting was developing a lean process with Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) about four years ago. The business and the school have held consortium meetings, and people from MSOE visit Ashland and have invited businesses to attend the meetings to learn more about lean.

In the meantime, the Ashland district had been looking at implementing lean processes, Smith said. “When I came, I was very excited about it, not necessarily because it was lean or MSOE, but because it was a quality process,” she added. “For the most part, the district does continuous improvement, but we don’t have any tools. So basically, I said, ‘Here are a set of tools, and we should look at them.’”

In implementing lean processes, the school district has had a lot of support from CG Bretting, Smith said. Additionally, district administrators have contacted MSOE and asked to get the training. Smith said, “They (CG Bretting and MSOE) have also donated the time and energy of their lean facilitators. They have run activities so we can get a feel for what we’re stepping into.”

Looking at goals
One of the goals in implementing lean in the district is to gain a set of processes and beliefs that will help the district change the way it does business, Smith said. “Internally, look at the people who do the work to solve the problems,” she said. “Education has a long history of people dumping solutions on top of them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. People have to know what the real work is and developed it.”

Another goal is to change the mind-sets of district employees to recognize the need to have tools to look at their own organization in order to continuously improve, Smith said. Additionally, Smith said the district needs to figure out ways to be more efficient and save some dollars. “In Wisconsin, we have revenue limits that are, quite frankly, decimating schools in northern Wisconsin,” she said. “We can save a tremendous amount of money if we can do the work efficiently.”

Within one year, district officials want to educate the School District of Ashland in the lean philosophy and tools. In five years, they want to be using quality tools to operate the school district in the model of continuous improvement.

Education is at a crossroads, Smith said. “We’re looking at some really innovative things happening. We just need new ways of thinking. Lean offers us a lot of that.” But Smith expects there to be a bit of resistance from school district employees, as they are usually unfamiliar with these kinds of processes. Teachers often say that the same process implemented in other industries can’t be implemented in education because the same type of product isn’t being used, Smith said. “It’s hard to make that connection.”

MSOE has been contracted to take a core group of about 20 administrators and give them an overview of lean processes. “All administrators will have to have the mind-set to work on problems of the level of people doing the work,” Smith said. “We don’t have to do all the problem solving, but we have to get it.”

A lean community
Additionally, the School District of Ashland is teaming with CG Bretting to get other organizations in the area—including the City of Ashland—connected. “I think one of CG Bretting’s goals is to develop a lean community,” Smith said. “You can’t help but improve the economy for everyone if you can share the good news. They have a l lot of energy around it. I anticipate a lot of partnerships.”

For more information on the school district, visit


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