An exciting journey

Published 11:54 am Saturday, November 23, 2013

A couple of years ago I received a Christmas gift that has had a transformational impact on my views toward education. It was a book titled “The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time,” written by the legendary author Stephen Covey. Covey is perhaps best known for his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has sold over 20 million copies to date. For those who are unfamiliar with “The 7 Habits,” Covey wrote it after years of researching the common traits of highly successful people and boiled his findings down to the seven habits he found were most consistent with their success. The seven habits are:

1. Be Proactive.

2. Begin with the End in Mind.

3. Put First Things First.

4. Think Win-Win.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

6. Synergize.

7. Sharpen the Saw.

Millions of people have studied Covey’s principles and swear by their effectiveness and the impact they have had on their own ability to be more effective. One of those people is Muriel Summers, principal at A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C.

In 1999, A.B. Combs was a struggling school, and Summers was told that if things didn’t turn around, the school would be closed. She recalled having attended a seminar on the seven habits, led by Covey himself, and being captivated by what she learned. Summers wondered what impact could be achieved by incorporating the seven habits in her school’s existing curriculum, and she soon embarked on a journey that has done nothing short of transforming the lives of her students, their families and an entire community.

“The Leader in Me” chronicles the story of A.B. Combs, which by 2006 had been rated as the number one magnet school in the United States, as well as many other schools that have embraced the seven habits as a model of instilling leadership and personal accountability in their students. Today, hundreds of schools around the country are experiencing their own unbelievable transformations. Parents, educators and businesspeople regularly travel to A.B. Combs from across the country, eager to learn how their own schools can be turned around.

Shortly after reading it for the first time, I excitedly set out to tell as many people about this wonderful discovery I had made as would listen. To my amazement, several others in the community were familiar with it as well. In fact, several years ago a group of concerned citizens, led by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, introduced the program to leaders of both Franklin City and Southampton County Schools. Experts were brought in to discuss the program, and a trip was arranged to visit A.B. Combs so the group could witness the results first hand. Although everyone who made the trip was impressed with what they learned, and for reasons known only to them, school leaders chose not to follow up with the program.

Again in early 2012, the Chamber invited a representative from Franklin-Covey Education, the organization that helps schools implement “The Leader in Me” program, to return to Franklin and speak with its board members about helping local schools implement the program. After another visit with Southampton County school leaders, she received another “thanks, but no thanks.”

Those of us who were enthused about the program were disappointed, to say the least.

Then earlier this week, when going through the papers one evening that my children routinely bring home from school, I read a letter from their principal at Capron Elementary School, Allison Francis Ed.D., which stopped me in my tracks. It began like this:

“We, at Capron Elementary, are excited to introduce a new program which we believe will have a profound effect on the staff, students, and the community of our school. Starting this week the students will begin to learn and practice The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a set of leadership and life skills written by Stephen Covey.”

Capron Elementary School – its students, teachers and parents – are about to embark on a journey that has literally saved failing schools and made good schools great. As a parent, I’m excited that my children will be a part of the journey, and that I’ll have the opportunity to watch it unfold from a front row seat. And as for our community, which has education at the forefront of its mind, we at The Tidewater News plan to give you the same opportunity. Having been given the schools’ blessing, in the coming weeks and months we will follow Capron’s progress and report the results.

When my children’s grandmother gave me “The Leader in Me” for Christmas two years ago, inside the front cover she inscribed “For all to read, to benefit Reese, Whitman and Stella.” She couldn’t have known at the time how this book would eventually benefit all three of her grandchildren. I’ll let you borrow it if it’s something you’d like to read, to hopefully benefit all of our children.