Book Review

Step-Up-To-Excellence

By Francis M. Duffy

Reviewed by
Judith A. Zimmerman
Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership Studies, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

Step-Up-To-Excellence: An Innovative Approach to Managing and Rewarding Performance in School Systems could be a helpful guide to superintendents for implementing incremental changes, but full implementation of Frank Duffy’s systemic approach to school redesign is not for the faint-hearted. As the author puts it: “You cannot strive for the next level of organizational excellence by changing one piece of your system at a time.”

Duffy, a professor of education administration and supervision at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., combines principles of adult learning and organization change theory in his Step-Up-To-Excellence methodology. First the author details the necessary steps and the tools for redesigning an entire district by making three simultaneous improvements: improving work processes; improving social architecture; and improving environmental relationships.

Secondly, Duffy describes how to create preK-12 strategic alignment with the district’s grand vision and goals that flow downward through preK-12 clusters (high schools and their feeders), buildings and teams to individuals. Obstacles at the district and cluster level are removed before they can affect performance at each succeeding level.

Finally, Duffy gives the system leader a guide to lead an evaluation (both formative and summative) of the whole system’s performance prior to cycling back to begin the process again.

Duffy’s lack of experience as an educational administrator might account for his overly optimistic view of implementing some of his innovations in the highly regulated environments of schools. However, most superintendents and professors of educational administration will appreciate the author’s description of how to move schools from being mechanistic organizations to knowledge-creating places.

(Step-Up-To-Excellence: An Innovative Approach to Managing and Rewarding Performance in School Systems by Francis M. Duffy, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md., 2002, 258 pp., $27.95 softcover, $37.95 hardcover)