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Communities of Excellence 2026 Blogs

COE 2026 Kicks Off its National Learning Collaborative

Last Thursday and Friday 43 attendees met in Tempe, Arizona to kick off the full yearlong National Learning Collaborative. As you may recall, we began back in May with five communities.  These five communities worked with us for four months on a series of learning modules designed to help the communities understand the Baldrige- based principles of community performance excellence and to develop their Community Profiles.

In October five more communities joined our Collaborative and together they all met for the first time in Tempe for a full two days of learning, networking and inspiring conversation.  From now until next September these ten communities will meet bi-monthly for regular online sessions.There is too much information to share in one blog post, so please follow us over the next few weeks as I try to summarize the experiences we had. But until then, here are some of the highlights:

COE 2026 Chair and Co-Founder Lowell Kruse summarizing his experience "This [conference] has been 10 times what we expected - your enthusiasm, your humor…Now you have to own this in your own communities. You have to own it personally…We need your help to do this. This needs to go across the country!”

Baldrige Foundation President Al Faber speaking to our group Thursday afternoon: “You are going to be the spark that lights a fire across the country.”

Day two of the conference, held in coordination with the Baldrige Fall Conference, our panel of community leaders talk about their experience adopting the Communities of Excellence Framework. 

Above from left to right:  Stephanie Norling, Darrell Gardner (Brookfield/Marceline, MO), Elena Quintanar (San Diego South Region, CA), Josh McKim (Maryville, MO), Brenda Grant (Kanawha County, WV) and Michelle Mejia (West Kendall, FL).

Also on day two, representatives from our first five communities receive their Commitment to Community Excellence Recognition for successfully completed and submitting their Community Profiles.  A huge thank you to the Baldrige Program, Baldrige Foundation and Alliance for Performance Excellence for making this happen!

Above from left to right: 

First row:  Lowell Kruse (COE 2026 Chair), Elena Quintanar (San Diego South Region, CA), Valerie Brew (San Diego South Region, CA), Brenda Grant (Kanawha County, WV) Margaret Sotham (West Kendall, FL), Jason Bell (West Kendall, FL), Ximena Lopez (West Kendall, FL), Darrell Gardner (Brookfield/Marceline, MO), Bob Fangmeyer (Baldrige Program Director)

Second row:  Manuel Castaneda (San Diego South Region, CA), Judy Crabtree (Kanawha County, WV), Michelle Mejia (West Kendall, FL), Karen Vassell (West Kendall, FL), Rosalina Butao (West Kendall, FL), Donell Robidoux (Maryville, MO), Josh McKim (Maryville, MO), Al Faber (Baldrige Foundation President)

Third row:  Liz Menzer (Alliance for Performanc Excellence), Stephanie Norling (COE 2026 Director)