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Values-Based Leadership: Goochland County Public Schools

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 01, 2014 6 min read
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We welcome guest bloggers James Lane, Superintendent and Peter Gretz, Assistant Superintendent of Operations both at Goochland County Public Schools (VA). Here they share their experiences and beliefs about values based leadership and the advantages that can spring from alliances with resources that reside outside of school districts.

What impact do you want to have? What’s the mark you hope to leave on the world? How about your teachers, what impact do they want to have? We think you know the answer. We think there are questions to be asked, too.

A couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to hear Charles Luck talk about his business. Like many, our perception of the Luck Companies has always been associated with rocks, making and selling them, specifically. We were astounded to hear Mr. Luck talk for over two hours about his work and the mission and vision of his business, and never mention rocks. Not once.

Instead, the Luck Companies are committed to igniting the potential they believe resides within every individual by helping them live, work and lead in alignment with their core values, beliefs and principles, igniting the potential in themselves and those around them.

We were so intrigued we went to hear Mark Fernandes, Luck’s Chief Leadership Officer, a few weeks later, and soon a partnership was formed in which our division began the journey toward leading and living with purpose, inviting our employees to be a part of something much bigger than test scores and student achievement.

We spent about 18 months asking hard questions, beginning with the leadership. Mark gave us frequent guidance and introduced us to his larger “Values-Based Leadership” (VBL) team. They showed up in our meetings and focus groups and spoke to our employees during the opening convocation and other professional development occasions. We blocked out regular intervals of time during which we dug deep into the heart of what we believe about education, children, and each other. It probably won’t shock you to learn that as we asked each other about what was important, not once did anyone respond with an answer about improved test scores.

We invariably found that at the heart of what drives each of us to get up every day and devote our lives to this work was a burning desire to improve the world, to make it a better place. Do we want kids to excel on academic tests? Sure. But why? In fact, why do we want any of the things we desire for our students? Why do we want our kids to have great opportunities post high school? Why do we want families to be proud of their schools? In every case, at the bottom of our intentions was the desire to make the world a better place and to see other people’s lives improved.

The result was a strategic plan, built with our community, that reflects the values and beliefs that define the Goochland County Schools. Our mission is to maximize the potential of every learner. Our vision is to prepare the next generation to have a positive impact. Simple, profound statements that reflect the values and beliefs that make us who and what we are, as individuals and as an organization.

From the partnership with Luck Companies, we have seen overwhelming support for instilling our five core values (ECCHO, as we “echo” our values): Excellence, Creativity, Courage, Honor, and Optimism. In every classroom, teachers and students discuss how to live in alignment with their personal core values and how the division’s core values will lead to a transformational educational experience.

What Mark Fernandes taught our faculty was profound. After we shared our strategic plan Mark explained that every member of our organization should take a hard look inside themselves and make sure they are aligned with these values, goals, objectives, and strategies. If team members are not aligned, they aren’t “bad” educators or people. It just means that they are on the “wrong dance floor.” Most of us spend more than 1/3 of our day at work and if you are going to spend that much time in one place, then you will never truly maximize your own leadership potential unless the organization aligns to your personal values.

Inevitably, some difficult conversations followed. Some teachers left the profession, some left our division. For those that stayed behind, we saw a passion for teaching and learning that has ignited our school division’s potential. Every day, we now work together on innovative and creative ideas for maximizing our students’ potential.

As the leaders at Luck Companies became more invested in our schools, they joined and led advisory committees. Bryan Smith (Luck Stone) chaired our CTE Advisory Committee and through his interpreting our new values and dreams for students we have built a CTE and STEM program on the “cutting-edge.” We began designing programs to prepare our students for both college and work in inspirational companies like Luck Stone. Luck donated a simulator for operating machines in their rock quarries and what we originally intended to be a Heavy-Equipment Operator program expanded into a comprehensive Civil Engineering Program. Virginia recently recognized Luck Companies as the regional winner of a CTE Excellence Award for the top business/community partnership in the Richmond region.

The ultimate tribute to this work is our STEM Camp. Nearly 10% of our students come back during the summer to engage in real-world problem-solving, engineering projects. The summer STEM Camp has now expanded into the winter “Conundrum Day” program. Our teachers have begun taking Children’s Engineering courses and every day we are building engaging instruction because we know that engagement is the key to school reform, not test scores. We believe the scores will follow - and they have!

After building what we consider to be the perfect partnership, the CarMax foundation jumped on board and is now supporting innovation in our schools through donations for an outdoor classroom to foster student creativity. They took it a step further this year and have begun sending volunteers to build sections of the classroom and are now volunteering at our summer STEM Camp. The large employers in our area will hire many of our students. Imagine how seamless the transition will be if our students have done the work to better understand themselves and think about how their own values will interact with those of future workplaces. They’ll be equipped to choose the right “dance floor.” We know that our students will be inspired to have a positive impact on any organization, but we want them to choose careers that will maximize their happiness and potential after graduation as well.

Many people have asked us why “optimism” is one of our core values. Interestingly, the difference-maker between our highest and lowest performing classrooms is often not teacher quality. We are fortunate to have an exemplary staff. The difference for us is the efficacy of the teacher - and the school as a whole. We know that if we truly believe that we can make a difference in our student’s lives, then if for no other reasons than grit and perseverance our students’ potential will be maximized. To have this passion for teaching and to have the energy to ignite this potential, we must all focus on optimistic outcomes and improvement every minute, every day.

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