Area teachers gather to hear speaker, kick off year

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Connley Skeen uses a slide of a child who shows off his artistic skill by drawing all over his baby brother with permanent marker as a lesson in leadership Monday morning during a Partnership in Education Breakfast at the Natchez Convention Center. Leadership is about choice, Skeen said. It is how we choose to react to situations as parents, educators and community leaders that have a lasting effect on ourselves and others around us, Skeen said.

NATCHEZ — Sometimes, one plus one equals three.

When a group comes together to synergize, they use the mindset, “yours + mine = something better.” That was the message shared with a group of more than 1,000 area teachers Monday morning, just days before the new school year is set to start.

The Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and the Regionalism Steering Committee sponsored the event to kick off the school year, Chamber President Debbie Hudson said.

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The speaker, Connley Skeen, the director of student administrative services in a successful South Carolina school district, spoke about a program called “The Leader in Me” to teachers and administrations representing both public and private schools throughout the Miss-Lou.

“The Leader in Me” program is based off of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and it seeks to educate children by first teaching them the skills they need to be successful overall in the outside world.

“You teach kids responsibility, you have better students,” Skeen said.

However, he said, teachers can’t teach effectively if they’re not passionate and excited about their work.

“We devalue a lot of (our students’) experiences,” Skeen said. “The moment you have a relationship with a child, they change. We’ve all heard of that light coming on in the eyes of a child. What if I could turn on the light in every child in that classroom? How easy would your job be?

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Cathedral School teacher Beth Foster leans forward with interest during the “Leader in Me” talk Monday morning.

“You need to show up to watch them work.”

Chad Smith, Southeast area director for Franklin Covey, the company that owns “The Leader in Me,” hosted a smaller meeting after Skeen finished his talk for those interested in implementing the program.

Approximately 20 educators and community leaders attended to learn more about bringing the program to the Miss-Lou.

“The Leader In Me” began in 1999 in A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. Since then, A.B. Combs has become the No. 1 magnet school in the nation.

“(This program) is not about turning kids into the next president or about turning them into CEOs,” Smith said. “It’s about making them their own leaders.”

Once schools decide to implement “The Leader In Me” program, it takes three years to meet all of the criteria and become established “lighthouse schools,” he said, a title that proclaims an established leadership school.

There are 500 schools participating globally, Smith said, and most of them are in North Alabama.

Participating schools have seen decreases in discipline problems while seeing increases in enrollment, test scores, parental involvement, engagement and confidence, according to Franklin Covey data.

For example, the data shows, a school in Decatur, Ala., went from 225 discipline problems in a year to 74 the next year after implementing “The Leader in Me” program. Another school decreased tardiness by 35 percent and discipline problems by 75 percent, according to Franklin Covey data.

However, the program does come with a price.

Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christi Kilroy said they’re still working to get the $50,000 to fund “The Leader in Me” program being implemented in their school system.

“It’s been in the works for two years,” she said. “We’re trying to get funding, and we’re exploring a lot of options.”

Kilroy said the Vicksburg district is hoping to be approved for some grants, and she said there are a number of businesses that have already said they support the program. The school system is also on board.

“It’s something that has to come from the bottom up,” she said. “It can’t be a mandated program — the teachers have got to want it. There’s some hard work that goes with changing the culture of a (school) program.”

Kilroy said she first heard about “The Leader in Me” when she heard Muriel Summers — principal at A.B. Combs — speak at a conference a few years ago.

“A lot of it appeals to me, but one of the things that appeals to me most is that it’s for all of the kids regardless of background,” she said.

“It focuses on personal growth and skills that some kids might not get at home.”

Smith said one of the greatest benefits to “The Leader in Me” method of teaching is that it allows time to get to know each child’s talents.

Concordia Parish schools begin classes Aug. 15, Natchez-Adams School District and Cathedral School begin classes Thursday, Trinity Episcopal School begins classes Monday and Adams County Christian School begins Aug. 11.