Step-Up-To-Excellence SM

Step-Up-To-Excellence SM is a practical, innovative methodology for transforming school systems into high-performing learning organizations. It was created by The F. M. Duffy Group by drawing together for the first time effective principles and tools from the fields of organizational improvement, systems thinking, and systems dynamics.

The Need

Rolling across America is a long train called "The School Improvement Express." The triple societal engines of standards, assessment, and accountability are pulling it. The lead engine goes by the name "The No Child Left Behind Engine That Could." The rolling stock is composed of school systems and a myriad of contemporary school improvement models, processes, and desirable outcomes. The train has once again come to a stop at a broad and deep abyss that goes by the name "The Canyon of Systemic School Improvement." On the far side of the abyss lies the "Land of High Performance." The train and some of its riders want to go there. In fact, they have wanted to go there for years but have failed to make the crossing, and so they keep returning here to the edge of the abyss to stare across with longing in their hearts wondering how they will ever traverse it.

Standing at the edge of this great abyss, some educators see a threat while others see an opportunity. Some see an impossible crossing, while others see just another puzzle to be solved. Meanwhile, the pressure in the three great "engines" for setting standards, assessing student learning, and holding educators accountable for results continues to build and shows no sign of dissipating. The "engineers" have their hands on the brakes but they can feel the pressure trying to edge the train forward, which feels like having one foot on the brake of a car while stepping on the gas with the other foot.

Even though the train has rolled across a lot of ground and although its passengers have done good things along the way, there they stand one more time looking out over the abyss wondering how in the world they will get to the other side. Some of those standing at the edge say, "Impossible, can't be done." Others say, "We've been here before and failed then." Still others stand there and theorize about the complexity of crossing such a canyon. "It's so hard to define the boundaries of the canyon. Just what is a system, what does it mean, is it this or is it that? We need this, this, this, and that or we'll never cross," they suggest, but then they take no action to do what's needed. Still others, looking backward at the long train say, "What's behind us is the future. What we've done in the past is what we should continue to do."

The F. M. Duffy Group believes there are ways to cross the "canyon of systemic school improvement." One way is found in the Step-Up-To-Excellence SM methodology. For more information on this, please read Dr. Duffy's article describing the Step-Up-To-Excellence methodology.