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The Scott County Way - Educators take a page from 'The Toyota Way' to boost curriculums

That's one way to "use visual control so no problems are hidden," according to a tenet in the book The Toyota Way.

Although Scott County Schools doesn't produce motor vehicles, it applies the "human side" of lean manufacturing principles espoused in The Toyota Way. "We don't necessarily make cars, but we make kids the best way they can be," said Ken Wright, director of instruction in the Scott County Schools.

It seemed only natural that Toyota's corporate culture would influence the local schools, said Superintendent Dallas Blankenship. He estimated that one in three students in the school district have one or more parents that work for either Toyota or a Toyota supplier. The school district has had several partnership programs with Toyota in Georgetown.

"Simply over time, we learned a lot of practices that have helped us to become a better school system," he said.

The book The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker provides guidelines to create an overall culture of kaizen, a Toyota principle of continuous improvement, even in a school system. The district's teacher leaders and administrators have read Liker's book to formally reincarnate the Toyota Way into the Scott County Way, relating it to education. The district will use the Scott County Way as curriculum for the district's teacher academy and for an international leadership conference being held this fall. Putting the principles on the wall, so to speak, will be a road map to making future decisions, Blankenship said.

"Toyota's ideas have helped us think through better ways for us," he said.

Applying lean manufacturing principles to an educational curriculum isn't a stretch. Gene W. Childress, a senior consultant with Center for Quality People and Organizations and who is working with the school district, rattled off how the Toyota production system applies to education:

• Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation: Periodically, the school district receives requests for another bus stop or bus route, Childress said. Instead of making a statement or saying the district does not have time to investigate, the district should "try to go look at the situation," Childress said.

• Use "pull" systems to avoid overproduction: There are often stories of education using a "push" system, where some students are pushed through to high school without mastering basic skills such as reading, Childress said. A "pull" system in education gives the students assistance when they need it. "The pull system says you never pass on until they are ready to pass on," Childress said.

• Use visual control so no problems are hidden: Several schools in Scott County post charts in plain view that state the students' goals or progress in math, spelling or even discipline, Blankenship said.

Visual control is a principle Watcher applied in her Eastern Elementary class. She has been a teacher for eight years, but this year started charting the average of her students' math scores. In the last four tests, the class's average score jumped from 73 to 79. Before she started charting the students' math average, their math scores were random. The charts help the students be more aware of their scores and more conscientious when they take tests, she said.

The charts help students see themselves as a team, she said. The approach helps ones who are lagging behind and in preparing students to take standardized testing, she added.

"They take responsibility for each other," Watcher said.

Teamwork is one of the keys to make lean manufacturing management a success. However, the mind-set seems to go against education's culture of individual achievement, said Arlie Hall, a manager in the lean systems education of the University of Kentucky Center for Manufacturing.

"The more you get the team to teach each other, they learn faster," he said. "When they are alone, they have no one to turn to and they won't achieve as well."

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