Oak Ridge Schools Strategic Plan 2020: Promoting Achievement and Accountability

This is the third post in a six-part series recognizing the state finalists and overall Grand Prize winner of the Tri-State Best Practices contest.  Our previous posts featured Alabama state finalists Eufaula City Schools and Muscle Shoals City Schools.


Preparing students for college, career, and life success is a balancing act. School systems not only have to ensure they have an engaging curriculum that addresses the needs of all types of learners, they also must make sure they safely transport students to and from school, serve nutritious meals for students, provide clean and safe facilities, keep parents informed, etc.  The list goes on and on.  In short, they must strategically plan to meet the current and future needs of their students, staff, and communities.  Oak Ridge Schools (ORS), one of the Tennessee finalists in the Tri-State Best K-12 Practices contest, is doing just that with their strategic plan.

Origins of the Oak Ridge Strategic Plan 2020

Superintendent Bruce Borchers, in partnership with educators, administrators, and community members, began the development The Oak Ridge Strategic Plan 2020 in 2016.  The team created a district mission and vision and identified goals for improvement in five critical areas:

  1. Academic Excellence:  World class, balanced curriculum and instruction focused on student achievement
  2. Educator Excellence: Committed, innovative and qualified educators the direct link to our students
  3. Learning Environment Excellence:  Safe, secure and effective environment, classrooms and infrastructure that promote learning 
  4. Operational Excellence:  Excellence in the administration, application, operation, and accountable stewardship of our valued educational resources to meet student needs 
  5. Stakeholder Excellence:  A strong family, community and school partnership that values and supports excellence in education

The team meets monthly to review Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure the progress on each goal. Each goal has an assigned owner.  The owner reports on the goal to the board of education monthly and reports on the goals to the community annually.  As a result, every department and every school community are afforded the opportunity to actively engage in the success of all students. 

Celebrating Successes and Identifying Opportunities to Improve

ORS students are recognized for successes in post-secondary opportunities and problem-based learning

The ORS Strategic Plan 2020 (Oak Ridge 2020) goals for academic, educator, learning environment, operational and stakeholder excellence are all measured quantitatively and tracked on scorecards.  Examples of quantitative measures include percentage of teachers implementing projects/problem based learning opportunities (academic excellence goal), percentage of teachers retained from previous year (educator excellence goal), percentage of buses equipped with operable cameras and radios (learning environment excellence), average resolution time for completion of staff help desk tickets (operational excellence goal), and number of advisory council meetings held each year (stakeholder excellence goal),   Met goals are celebrated.  For example, students were recognized for being certified in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator as part of the academic excellence goal of promoting critical thinking skills and problem-based learning.  Improvement opportunities and strategies are identified for goals that are not met.  The ORS team identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to improvement in each area.  When goals for student progress in math were not met, ORS reached out to outside experts for assistance.  The result is a best practice that enhances stakeholder engagement, increases organizational transparency, and promotes achievement and accountability.

Why We Like This Entry

While most if not all school systems have a strategic plan, the Oak Ridge 2020 goes beyond what is typically developed and includes Key Performance Indicators, a balanced scorecard, and planned celebrations of success.  Oak Ridge has set in place an effective structure for continuous improvement.

  • Goals are clearly identified and communicated.  The scorecard provides a very clear delineation of goals and whether they have been met. Information is clear-cut rather than confusing to stakeholders (students, staff, community members, etc.) 
  • Each goal has a designated owner.  The identification of responsible parties makes improvements much more attainable.
  • Each goal is monitored, adjusted, and improved annually under the direction of district leaders.
  • Successes/wins are celebrated and keep stakeholders motivated to continue achieving excellence.

ORS uses scorecards to track and report progress toward goals and objectives.

Meeting Their Mission

The community of stakeholders that developed Oak Ridge 2020 created and lives by this mission to prepare each student for excellence in education and the workplace.  As superintendent Borchers remarks, “This Strategic Plan is all about continuous improvement and achieving excellence in education.  It is an important and detailed framework for ORS that envisions our future and sets strategic goals to realize that future.” 

Oak Ridge Schools Best Practices Award check presentation at Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) Legislative Conference. From L-R: Byron Headrick, Holly Cross (Supervisor of Career Readiness and Communications), Bruce Lay (Executive Director of School Leadership), Sherri Headrick

Congratulations Oak Ridge Schools for Your Award Winning entry.  We applaud you for strategic planning process and execution that promotes achievement, engagement, transparency, and accountability.




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Muscle Shoals City Schools: Impactful Problem-Solving

This is the second post in a six-part series recognizing the state finalists and overall grand prize winner of the Tri-State Best Practices Contest. Our first post featured Alabama state finalist Eufaula City Schools.


Many young people face a Catch 22 when they enter the job market: Employers want experience, but you cannot get experience unless someone hires you. In a continuing effort to provide Alabama students with real world experiences, the Alabama State Department of Education has partnered with the Alabama State Department of Labor to provide work-based learning programs to local school systems. However, in some cases, students were not afforded opportunities in skilled, technical environments due to employer restrictions on insurance of minors.

Origins of the Pathfinder Program

To alleviate this problem, Muscle Shoals City Schools (MSCS) piloted the Pathfinder Program at the Muscle Shoals Career Academy in August 2014. Pathfinder is a program designed to give business and industry the means to utilize trained and certified high school students in technical and skilled jobs. In addition to classroom and lab/shop training, Pathfinder students must also perform satisfactorily in the workplace to earn their high school diploma and dual enrollment college credits.

MSCS partnered with a local firm, Lyons HR to make it easier for businesses to participate in the Pathfinder Program. As the employer of record, administers payroll, remits related taxes and provides workers’ compensation and general liability insurance for all working students. With the Pathfinder Program, high school students may now work in positions previously ‘off limits.’ These training stations and positions allow students to gain meaningful experiences in a career they plan to pursue after high school while earning a paycheck and school credit.

Businesses that have partnered with the Pathfinder Program include Navistar, ECM Hospital, Helen Keller Hospital, Tasus and original program participant North American Lighting

Impact of the Pathfinder Program

The Pathfinder Program benefits high school students by placing them in an authentic employment position for which they have been trained, allowing them to earn a paycheck, and by helping them obtain a class credit. The program includes an acceptance process whereby students are required to complete an application and interview with both the Coordinator of the Pathfinder Program and the business representative. Once accepted, students complete a training agreement and training plan. The Coordinator maintains weekly contact with students and businesses to ensure on-going success.

The program has grown from one student working at North American Lighting in the Fall of 2014 to students working at a variety of businesses in North Alabama. The program has generated nearly $1 million of economic impact.Through the soft skills that the program teaches, employers report that the Pathfinder students often exceed their expectations. They report to work on time and rarely miss work days. They exhibit a good attitude and are eager to learn new skills. Additionally, attendance at school has seen improvements among students enrolled in this program.

The Pathfinder Program has earned recognition across Alabama and the country. At the time of inception, there was no other program like this one in the US. Now, other schools have toured MSCS facilities and replicated this model. Pathfinder Program Coordinator Tiffany Stonecipher and Career Academy principal Caryn Hairell speak at both state and national career and technical education conferences sharing this best practice with other school systems.
“We are honored that our Pathfinder Program at the Muscle Shoals Career Academy has been chosen as an Alabama finalist for the Tri-State Best K-12 Practices Award sponsored by LEAN Frog,” said Dr.Brian Lindsey, Muscle Shoals Superintendent. “Because the program provides students with opportunities for work experience and prepares them for life after graduation, it can greatly affect students’ lives. Your recognition of the Pathfinder Program’s success will foster its growth and help fund its future.”

MSCS students working at their respective skilled, technical jobs through the Pathfinder Program


The Pathfinder Program is a good case study of effective problem-solving in education.

  • Take time to identify problem: MSCS took the time to identify the problem that was preventing students from reaching their career goals.
  • Collaborate with others to find solution: Once the problem was identified (i.e., employer restrictions on insurance of minors), they partnered with Lyons HR to implement a solution
  • Test solution on a small scale: MSCS piloted the program to test the solution
  • Remove obstacles to success: Once it was clear the solution worked, MSCS removed obstacles to ensure success of the solution. For example, the system changed the Pathfinder Coordinator position from a 9-month employee to a 12-month employee so coordinator could stay connected with businesses year round.
  • Standardize success: The academy developed a standardized training agreement and training plan
  • Share Success: Data from the Pathfinder Program is recorded and evaluated to understand effectiveness and economic impact. This information is shared at each month’s board of education meeting


Muscle Shoals City Schools’ award winning practice has taken an employment conundrum for students and created a program that benefits both students and the local economy. “Because the program provides students with opportunities for work experience and prepares them for life after graduation, it can greatly affect students’ lives,” said MSCS Superintendent, Dr. Brian Lindsey. This best practice is growing and MSCS is challenging the community to help it grow even more. As Pathfinder Coordinator Tiffany Stonecipher remarked, I encourage each business that hears of this program to consider giving a young person the chance to be successful. More than anything, I want our young people to see a successful future in their hometown.

from left to right: Sherri Headrick (LEAN Frog), Celia Rudolph (MSCS Board President), Sally Howell Smith (AASB Exec Dir), Brian Lindsey (MSCS Superintendent), and Byron Headrick (LEAN Frog)

Congratulations Muscle Shoals City Schools and the muscle shoals career academy for your award-winning entry. We applaud you for using effective problem-solving skills to create solutions that positively impact your students and your community.

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Eufaula City Schools – Providing Purposeful Exploration of College and Career

This is the first post in a six-part series recognizing the state finalists  and overall grand prize winner of the Tri-State Best Practices Contest. May these great examples of best practices in Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee public education inspire you as they did us.


What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a question that we start asking children at an early age.  Eufaula City Schools’ leaders–one of the Alabama finalist in the “Tri-State Best K-12 Practices” Contest—have not only asked their students this question, but they have developed a best practice that helps student systematically and purposefully explore college and career opportunities.

Origins of “Crayons to Careers”

When Superintendent Dr. Elisabeth Davis arrived at Eufaula City, she realized that many things were happening – fast! Department planning and activities were not always coordinated; in some cases they were siloed.  Consequently, she worked with all levels of leadership to align activities system-wide to support the school system’s vision, mission, and values.  This became the birth of the “Crayons to Careers” plan.  A system-wide calendar was developed detailing all activities that fall under the title “Crayons to Career.” Most activities and events were not new. However, putting all of the events and activities together created a systematic approach for knowing what to do, when to do it, how to do it, who should do it and how the event or activity can be improved in the future.

The “Crayons to Careers” plan focuses on spiraling programs from PreK to 12th grade to introduce children early to career options.  For example, students in lower grade levels work in raised beds (provided by an AlProHealth grant through the Barbour County Extension Office), while older students receive training in horticulture at the new greenhouse at Eufaula High School (EHS).  Students are given time during school hours and encouraged to take part in activities that are part of the spiraling of programs system wide. School schedules were changed for lower grade levels to have students participate in running school stores and have clubs such as chess on certain days.  This means students are now introduced to activities/concepts such as chess, coding, and handling money at a much younger age then they were before this plan. Additionally, upper grade level students participate in activities and teach/coach lower grade level students.

“Crayons to Careers” Community Engagement

Eufaula City Schools’ students and teachers learn about careers and participate in community service activities.

A key aspect of Eufaula City’s plan is community engagement.  Students participate in grade-level community service projects based on career interests or themes such as the Senior Citizen Prom, a joint community service project of the EHS Academies. The plan also has ECS staff shadow local business leaders and public servants to understand “A Day in the Life” of these community members so teachers can better prepare their students for those careers.  Having a detailed plan helps staff at Eufaula City Schools and community members pay close attention to ways to build upon partnerships. Using the premise that parent, family, and community involvement in education correlates with higher academic performance and school improvement, Eufaula City builds on these relationships.   When schools, parents, families, and communities work together to support learning, students tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, stay in school longer, and enroll in higher level programs.

Why we Like this Entry:

There are numerous reasons to love the “Crayons to Careers” Best Practice.

The impact and focus on all grade levels throughout the system guarantees all students will have equal opportunities to participate.  By providing this plan, all teachers are then accountable for providing appropriate opportunities to all students and those opportunities a sequential across the grade spans.

“A Day in the Life of” demonstrates the importance of a high level understanding the Suppliers, Inputs, Outputs, and Customers (SIPOC) of a process, in this ensuring that students are College and Career Ready.     Elementary and Secondary administrators shadow each other, Career Tech teachers shadow relevant businesses, and Central Office members shadow students.  This provides staff with the opportunity to understand the needs of both Suppliers and Customers in the career development process.

Their consistent planning, implementation, and review of activities and events is reminiscent of the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle that promotes a commitment too continuous improvement.

Helping Students Dream Big

Eufaula City Schools’ award winning practice is consistent with their system motto “Dream Big . . . Innovate Often.” As Superintendent Davis remarked, “We believe we must teach our students how to dream in the elementary grades, and we must equip them with the knowledge and skills to make those dreams a reality as they journey through middle and high school!  Our commitment to a purposeful PreK – 12 exploration of colleges and careers through a variety of avenues provides both students and adults with a wide array of innovative experiences to accomplish their big dreams!”

-from left to right: Sherri Headrick (LEAN Frog), Mitzi Clayton, Sally Howell (AASB), Otis Hill (ECS), Byron Headrick (LEAN Frog) and Louise Conner (ECS)

Congratulations Eufaula City Schools for your award winning entry.  We applaud you for your commitment to purposeful preparation of students and to consistent review of your efforts.


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Celebrating the 96th American Education Week


Celebrate the 96th American Education Week with LEAN Frog as Dave shares the significance of this special week.


At LEAN Frog, we’re thrilled to celebrate the 96th American Education Week!

This year’s theme is: Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility

The American Education Week also includes “National Education Support Professionals Day.” Our public schools’ hard-working, diverse, and unified team of Support Professionals sustain our local community educational ecosystems by providing invaluable and targeted services daily. They are essential and valued partners in our children’s learning and growing processes and they deserve our respect and appreciation!

Here is a video that defines visually the importance and contributions of Educational Support Professionals:

LEAN Frog – having conducted more than 60 assessments in Alabama public schools’ non-instructional departments – has seen first-hand the diligent work performed by Alabama’s Educational Support Professionals. These dedicated librarians, nurses, custodians, secretaries, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, bus driver, technology staff, and others do their jobs with skill every day and provide an environment where our students are safe and can learn, grow, and achieve.

LEAN Frog, utilizing our Lean Six Sigma-based proprietary work cycle of ASSESS-IMPROVE-SUSTAIN, interacts closely with Educational Support Professionals. One example was our work with the Madison City Schools (MCS) in Madison, Alabama. MCS was voted as one of the top 1500 public school systems in the nation by Newsweek Magazine and includes some of the best teachers, students, and staff in the country.

Working with the MCS Human Resources and Finance departments, LEAN Frog reviewed a staffing challenge and the MCS on-boarding process. Utilizing a Lean Six Sigma Tool — Value Stream Mapping — LEAN Frog led the staff through an analyzation of the departments’ work practices and, together, recognized process waste and variations. Then, working shoulder to shoulder with these Educational Support Professionals, LEAN Frog identified concrete opportunities for improvement and implemented results-based strategies for continuous improvement. Key results were:

  • Eliminating over 50 wasteful process steps
  • Saving 25-30 hours per week through improved efficiencies
  • Optimizing NextGen database to serve all users
  • Identifying opportunities to streamline the use of SearchSoft

As John Jones, Personnel & Title IX Coordinator at Madison City Schools, commented:

“LEAN Frog’s Value Stream Mapping process has allowed Madison City Schools to improve communication, teamwork, and productivity by streamlining our hiring process and created new excitement in the way we do things! They teach you techniques needed to be successful along the way. Great product and an even greater investment!”

For more information about this specific project, go to: https://theleanleap.com/results/improve/

As a former collegiate Education Support Professional — 27 years at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland — I encourage you to join me and my colleagues at LEAN Frog in acknowledging our Educational Support Professionals for the GREAT JOB they do every day in public education!

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Better Eating Equals Better Grades: The Relationship of Nutrition and Education


Celebrate World Food Day as Dave shares the correlation between improving nutrition and improving education.

World Food Day infograph

Although dated, this infograph — provided by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) — shines a spotlight on “World Food Day’ on October 16th.  GAIN is an independent, non-profit foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland and was developed at the United Nations 2002 Special Session of the General Assembly on Children.  The founder of GAIN is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its focus is mobilizing public-private partnerships and providing financial and technical support to deliver nutritious foods to those people most at risk of malnutrition.

The top, left statement on this infograph was true in 2014 and is still true today:

“More Children are in Education Than Ever Before

Education has a significant effect on global nutrition

— a child born to a mother who can read has a 50% better survival rate.”

From what we have seen in our small corner of the world (the Southeast US), the LEAN Frog team of professionals appreciates and supports GAIN’s celebratory statement about education and its significant effect on nutrition.  However, we also see this declaration from a reversed point of view as well — nutrition has a significant effect on education!  LEAN Frog, a ublic education software and service provider,  has seen that Students who have proper and regular nutrition in school perform better academically.  This statement is supported by numerous research articles and we have seen it first hand with the enhanced academic achievements school systems have recorded after allowing LEAN Frog to assess and improve their school nutrition programs (e.g., STAR Math scores increased by 15%; STAR Reading scores increased by 20%)

LEAN Frog has provided nutrition support services for large, urban school systems to small, rural school systems and everything size and type of school system in between.  We have helped them develop and implement improvement plans that increased the effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of their school nutrition programs.  Partnering with these school systems has generated great results such as

  1. Increased Meals Per Labor Hour (MPLH);
  2. Increased student participation rates;
  3. Optimized work flows for strategic sourcing, ordering, planning, and warehousing;
  4. Documented standard operating procedures for sustainability;
  5. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track departmental and system performance over time;
  6. Cost savings for reinvestment back into the classroom –millions of dollars to date across many school system!

These accomplishments noted above are exemplary, but the thing we at LEAN Frog are most proud of is that many Students– tens of thousands — are now regularly and properly fed at school and that these meals result in a higher level of documented academic achievement.

Could your school system’s nutrition department support your students better in their academic achievements?  Would you benefit from the professional assistance of LEAN Frog?  If your answer is YES, please contact Dave Knowles at:  dave@theleanleap.com.

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It’s Always a Good Time for Pizza . . . and for Lean Six Sigma

DKFGAnother yummy blog from our sales guy Dave Knowles.  See why he thinks you should  Take a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt to Lunch and why the lunch should be pizza!!! #itsalwaysagoodtimeforpizza

Right up front I must confess . . . I LOVE ALL KINDS OF PIZZA!  The pizza can be frozen, homemade, chain-store or independent store; basic or gourmet; thin crust, hand-tossed, thick crust, stuffed crust; made of “dough”, bread, pita, or English muffin–“ I love all of them!”  In fact, I have never eaten a pizza that I didn’t like . . . crust . . . sauce . . . cheese . . . what’s not to like? And I do have a history here: during my 25+ year professional career as the Director of Dining Services and Summer Conferences at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, I was responsible for purchasing, making, and serving, over half a million slices of pizza to my students, clients, friends, family, and myself.


The story of this wonderful food begins in antiquity and the word pizza was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta (central Italy).  One of the earliest forms of pizza in Italy was a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focacius. Modern pizza, when tomatoes were added, was developed in Naples in the late 18th century.  Pizza came to America via Italian immigrants in the 19th century but didn’t become popular until after World War ll.

SO . . .Pizza is a delicious and satisfying meal!

What are its similarities to Lean Six Sigma (LSS)?

A.  Both are satisfying and provide VALUE to the customer

Pizza is attractive to view, delicious to your olfactory senses and your taste buds, fills-up your stomach, and is reasonably priced.  (One large national chain still offers a 12-inch pizza for as low as $5.00!) Pizza is Sooo popular that the US pizza market is $44 billion (and the world pizza market is estimated to be $128 billion). That’s a really big deal and a BIG VALUE!

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology used to innovate and solve problems.  It combines the strategies and tools of Lean and Six Sigma. The principles of Lean Six Sigma focus on VALUE – defined from the perspective of the customer.  The goal is to increase value-add activities in a process and decrease non-value add (or wasteful) activities.

B.  Both have basic ingredients/components

Pizza–as anyone over the age of two knows — is comprised of dough (made from flour), tomato sauce, and cheese! (OK. . .sometimes toppings, too.)  The three basic ingredients are usually layered and then baked in a very, very hot oven (500 degrees or greater).

Two basic ingredients of LSS are lean and Six Sigma. Lean focuses on removing wastes while six sigma focuses on removing variation.

Removing waste from processes allows the creation of more value for customers with less work and less resources. The result is an instant gain in the speed of processes and a reduction in the cost of getting things done.

Removing variation from processes improves the quality of those processes because the processes consistently deliver value.

When you combine the efficiency of lean with the effectiveness of six sigma the result is a work team doing the right things (waste has been removed) and doing things right (variation has been removed).

C.  Both engage people

Pizza is loved and eaten by everyone! The pizza industry claims that Americans eat 100 acres of pizza daily.  (I have personally eaten several acres of pizza in my lifetime!) According to research firm Technomic’s 2016 Pizza Consumer Trend Report, pizza consumption has climbed to its highest level in the past four years. 41% of consumers polled say they eat pizza once a week and a Harris Poll found pizza is Americans’ No. 1 favorite comfort food.

LSS utilizes many different tools that actively engage people in the improvement process!  One tool, called “Value Stream Mapping” (VSM), involves a team of employees analyzing and mapping the current state of a process, envisioning the “perfect” state,  and then designing an implementable future state for this process — with the goal of eliminating steps within the process that are not necessary.   Through VSM, trust and transparency are developed within the team and an understanding of each person’s point-of view and the importance of their individual tasks are created.  Engaged team members often develop a greater sense of ownership, accountability, and see an increase in their own effectiveness.

DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) is a structured method for with problem-solving.  The process is robust and engages team members in a systematic order to identify the root causes of a problem.  The results-oriented DMAIC process allows team members to make data-driven decisions about cause-effect relationships.  In short, the DMAIC process can help a team to know what to tackle and in what order to have the greatest impact with problem-solving.


D.  Both are versatile

The 76,723 pizzerias in the US serve a wide variety of pizza:

  • Chicago-style pizza is deep-dish
  • New York-style pizza is wide, thin, and has foldable slices
  • New Haven-style pizza, known as apizza (pronounced ah-BEETS), is not perfectly round or rectangular
  • St. Louis-style pizza is thin crusted and comes in small, handy square servings
  • Stuffed pizzas have a thin layer of dough as a base in a high-sided pan, toppings (meats, basil, and oregano) and cheese placed next and an additional layer of “sealing” dough on top

Do I really need to go on?

Lean was created by Henry Ford and, as a manufacturing concept, focused on creating efficiencies and effectiveness on his automobile assembly line. After World War II, W. Edwards Deming took Lean into Japan and guided the reconstruction of Japan’s industries.  In 1986, Motorola developed Six Sigma to enhance its process development and eventually used it in its manufacturing operations. In the later decades of the 20th century, these two methodologies were combined and became a managerial concept call Lean Six Sigma.  Other industries soon recognized the benefits of this versatile approach. Today, LSS is used widely in banking, healthcare, and the US military.

LSS continues to spread into new areas–like public education– through the work of companies like LEAN Frog!

SO . . .now that you realize that there are similarities between Pizza and Lean Six Sigma, why not “Solve a Problem and Fill Your Tummy” with your new-found knowledge?  This past Tuesday (September 5th) was NATIONAL CHEESE PIZZA DAY.  However it’s always a good day for a good pizza.  Take a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt to lunch and celebrate the joys of pizza and the benefits of applying Lean Six Sigma for innovation and for problem-solving.

nat'l cheese pizza day

And, while you are at lunch- if “The Moon Hits your Eye Like a Big Pizza” — enjoy this Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis rendition of  “That’s Amore

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What Do Barbeque (BBQ) and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) have in Common?

DKFGPlease enjoy this wonderful post from our sales guy and burgeoning blogger Dave Knowles.  Many of you may know that in his former life Dave was Director of Dining Services and Summer Conferences at Washington College.  Dave helps us celebrate National Barbeque month with a “tasty” look at what barbeque and Lean Six Sigma have in common.  As we come off the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, we congratulate the FIVE-TIME World Champion Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que and Pig Master Chris Lily in neighboring Decatur, AL.   Enjoy this blog and go enjoy some great barbeque!

What Do Barbeque (BBQ) and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) have in Common?

(Aside from the fact that both have three-letter acronyms)

Well, as they say here in the South . . “y’all listen up.”

May is “National Barbeque Month” and we at LEAN Frog enjoy eating BBQ!  ALL kinds of BBQ with different “rubs” and “sauces”!

We are also deeply committed to practicing LSS to benefit public education.  Using LSS in non-instructional departments, we help school systems find opportunities and implement innovate solutions that result in increased efficiencies, enhanced communications, and reinvested resources for the classroom.

These two seemingly disparate pleasures/activities really have a lot in common.bbq and lss together

  1. Both “work” everywhere
    • Barbeque historically originated with native peoples in the Western Hemisphere and is served today throughout the US — from community celebrations to drive-through eateries to haute cuisine restaurants.
    • Henry Ford, considered the “Father of Lean,” developed a lean approach to create efficiencies in his assembly line production. Six Sigma has its roots in Pareto’s Law in the 1880s but gained momentum in the 1980s with Motorola.  Today LSS is a fundamental component in manufacturing and its practices have transferred into an ever-expanding list of industries (e.g., finance, health care, construction, education, etc.)
  2. Both Incorporate “Common Sense” Processes and Provide Effective Results
    • BBQ is cooked slowly over low, indirect heat and uses smoke at low temperatures (usually around 240-280°F) combined with significantly longer cooking times.  This cooking technique uniquely flavors meats, seafood, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, and beverages.
    • LSS is a collaborative team effort focused on performance improvement.  It systematically removes “waste” from processes and decreases “variance”, resulting in improved customer satisfaction and increased efficiencies. As a result, employee morale and quality of products and services are enhanced
  3. Both Utilize Essential, Specific Tools of the Trade
    • BBQ uses tools such as the following:
      • A wood, smoke-producing fire
      • grill on which items are placed for cooking
      • Tongs/spatulas to “handle” food items
      • Specialized “rubs” to season the raw meat
      • Regional-specific “sauces” to enhance the flavor of the cooked meat
    • LSS uses tools like the following:
      • Standardized work -the optimal combination of people, equipment, materials, and processes to ensure tasks are completed with minimum waste to consistently and predictably meet customer requirements and expectations.
      • The 5 Whys which help move past the symptoms toward uncovering the actual root cause of a problem. By asking the question “Why” five times, the true underlying cause(s) can often be determined.
      • 5S (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) for workspace organization.
      • The fishbone diagram which is also known as a “cause and effect diagram.” A fishbone diagram is a structured tool for brainstorming and is an aid in identifying potential causes.
      • The histogram – a data-containing graph which addresses the shape, frequency, dispersion and other factors. It can deliver a visual representation of data, which can be hard to comprehend in other forms of presentations.
      • Frequency charts, also referred to as check sheets, are used to collect, organize, prioritize, and analyze variation. They can be used to answer the question, “How often is an event occurring?
  4. Both Provide Benefits
    • People love to eat BBQ!  The food prepared by this cooking process infuses the cooked items with a unique and “homey” flavor that appeals to everyone’s desire for comfort foods.  And, it is reasonably priced.
    • LSS engages employees and promotes communication, efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability.  LSS initiatives are reasonably priced. The cost savings and value-add can provide a significant return on investment for organizations.

Both BBQ and LSS are an excellent VALUE to the consumer!

BBQ and LSS – for everyone, everywhere!

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Teachers Deliver – Make the Choice to Show Your Appreciation

DKFGPlease enjoy our very own Dave Knowles’ great blog kicking off Teacher Appreciation Week!


One of the fundamental tenets of our country– fought for and established by Founding Fathers and generations hence — is the freedom of CHOICE.  This freedom, both then and now, attempts to balance personal and local needs and actions with national parameters of shared concern.  This powerful and recurring theme influences our daily personal lives and our political conversations.

Today, choice is a prominent issue in public education.  This local and national conversation covers a wide spectrum of topics from student funding to budget expenditures to equal facilities to core curriculum to school-prepared meals.  Since this discussion can be a bit overwhelming, I suggest that you make a personal choice to become active in your child’s education.  Make a choice to appreciate and support your child’s #1 influencer at school–his or her teacher!


This choice can be turned into action by supporting the National Parent Teacher Association and its local, district and school-based associations.  The National PTA– with a mission “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children” — has been a choice for the parents of school-age children since 1897.  It is a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education.

This week, you can take personal action on this choice.  The National PTA has designated May 8-12, 2017, as Teacher Appreciation Week”.  This year’s theme is Teachers Deliver“.  And, YES, they do!  Teachers deliver so much to our students–learning, inspiration, motivation and, ultimately, keys to their futures.

For more information go to:  http://www.pta.org/ThankATeacher.

Please make a positive personal choice and join LEAN Frog (@ByronsLEAN on Twitter) in delivering thanks and gratitude to teachers by:

  1. Sharing photos and thoughts about appreciating our teachers #ThankATeacher on social media;
  2. Participating in a school or PTA-sponsored event;
  3. Acknowledging your interest in your student’s school work to their teacher and re-enforcing, to your child, the importance of their efforts;
  4. Personally expressing your appreciation–in any thoughtful way, large or small — to the teachers that work-with and care-about your child.

Make a good CHOICE!  Support teachers who change the lives of millions of children every day.  Their work and impact extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom!


P.S.  LEAN Frog has made the choice to truly appreciate and support TEACHERS and Public Education!

The “Tri-State Best K-12 Practices” Contest — sponsored by LEAN Frog in association with the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB), the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS), and the Louisiana Association of School Executives/Louisiana Association of School Superintendents (LASE/LASS) — is a contest recognizing Best Practices and Innovations in K-12 public schools (think teachers performing innovative programs) that impact student achievement and promote effective and efficient use of public resources.  Initial contests will be held in Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana where two finalists will be selected from each state and each will each receive $1,000.  One overall tri-state winner will be selected from the state finalists and receive an additional $4,000 grand prize.

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Alabama’s Best Barkley Bridge Elementary-Preparing Teachers and Students in STEM Learning

This is the final post in a six-part series recognizing the winners of the Tennessee’s Best and Alabama’s Best Contests.  Our previous post featured Tennessee’s Best Grand Prize winner Kingsport City Schools (TN), and the following runners up: Indian Valley Elementary (AL), Maury County (TN), Crestline Elementary (AL), and Lauderdale County (TN). Stay tuned for details about an exciting Best K-12 Contest expansion.


“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”  National Science Foundation


Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Ensuring that all students have access to high-quality learning opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects is a concern for many in education. Barkley Bridge Elementary School in Hartselle, Alabama recognizes that supporting both teachers and students in STEM is a game changer.  Barkley Bridge and their comprehensive K-4 STEM program  were recognized by Lean Frog and the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) as the Grand Prize Winner of the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest. Their entry showcases a sustainable approach to “STEM schooling” that is “preparing the little faces of today for a little of what they will face tomorrow.”

Barkley Bridge’s STEM Journey

In August of 2014, Susan Hayes (Barkley Bridge Elementary School’s principal at the time) met with several teacher leaders to discuss a perennial concern: “How do we reach the students we are missing when using traditional educational approaches”? 

The conversations that ensued left them seeking more information about STEM (Science; Technology; Engineering; Mathematics) schooling and the power of problem solving. As a result, the faculty identified five “goals” that they wanted to address in an interdisciplinary manner:

1.       Every Child will engage in STEM/Problem-Based Learning to increase capacity for thinking “outside the box”, to increase persistence and stamina in learning, and to boost resiliency after failure – since failure is a part of learning and life.

2.       Every child will find academic success.  Some find their success through traditional schooling; STEM school will open the doors to more Students.

3.       Every child will be introduced to STEM careers and leadership opportunities.

4.       Every child will develop character and soft skills as well as academic skills.

5.       Fourth grade “graduates” will be on the path to college and career readiness.

Barkley Bridge rightfully recognized that to prepare their students for STEM learning, they needed to prepare their teachers as well.  Teachers engaged STEM experts and prepared themselves by learning more about problem-based learning, higher order questioning, facilitating learning through a design model, and how to seamlessly integrate technology into day-to-day instruction.  Project Lead the Way’s (PLTW) products and approach were identified as the program that would best meet the needs of their students.  Lead teachers at the school piggy-backed on PLTW training at another school district and conducted turnaround training sessions at their school home. This turnaround training helped them achieve the buy-in of teachers throughout the school so everyone was on board by roll-out.  Each grade level offers PLTW models, AMSTI (Alabama, Math, Science, and Technology Initiative) modules, Mystery Science , Kodable coding, and more.

Barkley Bridge solicited and received corporate donations from several Morgan County businesses, including their Partner in Education, Sonoco.  Their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) also raised community funds for the STEM initiative and as a by-product raised community awareness of the need for a strong STEM program.      

STEM in Action at Barkley Bridge

Barkley Bridge has seen both qualitative and quantitative benefits with the implementation of their comprehensive STEM program. 

1.       Involved parents: Parent volunteers created a “Putting Parents into the Equation” team.  The PPE volunteers work with students to build number sense and problem-solving skills. 

2.       Engaged community: Parents and community helped the school deliver STEM learning beyond the classroom through activities like Family STEM Night, Virtual STEM Day, and a Library Maker Space.

3.       Inspired students: Students, parents, and teachers have commented on the impact of this approach to learning:

a.       “I like sharing ideas and collaborating.  I understand it better and understand the steps better when I am doing and not just watching.”  –Sawyer Tapscott, Fourth Grader

b.       “I have seen my own kids think creatively in ways they have not before.  They no longer just build things, they transform them.”   –Janadah Sartin, PTO President

c.       “My husband works in the STEM industry.  I was showing him what we are doing with coding.  He just kept saying ‘Third graders are doing that?’  He was amazed.”                   –Teacher Wendy Goss

4.       Marked improvement in student Math and Science ACT Aspire scores:



Why we Like this Entry 

Barkley Bridge’s STEM program emphasizes the importance of planning and execution and achieving buy-in.  They identified goals for their STEM program at the onset, planned their work and worked their plan.  Their wide-ranging program involves the support of all stakeholders and helps ensure the sustainability of these best practices in STEM learning.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.


Congratulations Barkly Bridge Elementary School for your Grand-Prize winning entry.  We applaud your students for their growth in learning and in their achievements, the faculty for its commitment and innovation, and the community for its engagement and support.


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World Compliment Day

Human hands showing thumbs up sign

In 1965, singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon debuted her hit single What the World Needs Now.  Many of us remember the “next stanza” of this popular song as an amplification of the 1960’s call for “love” among all peoples.

In 2017 — 50+ years later — I suggest that in the unsettled and politically divisive culture of education in 21st century America, let’s revise this “next stanza” to say simply, “What the world needs now… is a compliment.”



  1. an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration

  2. a formal act or expression of civility, respect, or regard

  3. a courteous greeting; good wishes; regards

In this spirit:

LEAN Frog would like to compliment:

  • The many, many teachers in America that pour their hearts into helping our children – both academically and socially – grow-up to handle living in a complex world
  • The of the educational support staff that provide a safe and healthy environment  for our children each day
  • Both board of education members and superintendents for providing inspired and innovative leadership that supports our community vision for education and for their direction in competently managing all the business aspects of a complex public organization
  • Students in public education for all their perseverance, hard work and creative and insightful thinking

Next, you might ask what comes after a compliment?  Well, my mother taught me that when you received a compliment, you should say, “thank you!”

So, again in that spirit:

LEAN Frog would like to thank:

  • Those who have taken the time to compliment our work – some of these compliments are available at theleanleap.com/results/testimonials
  • The judge of the American Business Association’s “Stevie” Awards who, in recognition of LEAN Frog’s Silver Stevie-IBA-Silver-Logo-170x300Award in the “Most Innovative Company of the Year” competition of 2016, said:

    “Too few companies have the courage and the compassion required to address the education market because it is not as lucrative as many others—you have to care enough to want to go there and be dedicated to providing real benefit, not just being another parasite on the beleaguered system.  It appears that LEAN Frog has shown the clever, entrepreneurial wit to bring real value where it is much needed.”

Finally, I would like to personally thank all of our friends in public education that, with a smile and a chuckle, have complimented me, Dave Knowles, when I am wearing my signature “frog hat.”




– Dave Knowles, LEAN Frog Sales and Marketing Manager

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