Leader in Me earns district national honor

Published 4:06 pm Friday, November 13, 2015

Last month the National Dropout Prevention Network presented the Vicksburg-Warren School District with the Crystal Star Award in San Antonio, Texas, for its work in implementing The Leader in Me, an initiative based on the popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey.

The award is given for excellence in dropout recovery, intervention and prevention, which fits with the initiative’s purpose to teach children habits to make them more successful in school and more prepared for after-school life.

“It was a unique opportunity for us,” VWSD Superintendent Chad Shealy said. “We had one of their representatives from Clemson who was down to see Leader in Me at Dana Road Elementary and interviewed Sherry (Williams, principal) and saw the program and they were so taken back by the progress that they saw at Dana Road that they contacted us because they were so impressed with what was going on here.”

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The Mississippi Department of Education presented at a break out session and VWSD was cited as an example of desired work necessary to see sustained improvement in states that are in the rural poverty designation, Shealy said.

A Chamber education committee member when The Leader In Me started in Warren County as well as VWSD Board of Trustees President, Bryan Pratt said the students, teachers and administration deserve as much credit as anyone because they want the initiative to work for it to be a success.

“It’s transforming the culture of the schools so that students really know they are responsible for their futures,” he said. “They can set goals, they can achieve those goals and they can feel good about those goals. It gives them a reason to want to be there.”

Pratt gave the example of a young boy at Bowmar Elementary who was at risk of failing a grade.

“Every child has a job,” he said. “He asked to help their custodian because he really liked him and made a connection with him.”

The Leader In Me doesn’t only train faculty and students but the staff also get’s involved.

“He wanted to help take out the garbage and help the custodian,” he said. “He applied for the job, and he got the job. Every day during his recess, he worked during his recess to take the garbage out.”

Pratt said for an elementary school student to do something like that is monumental.

“He made a connection with the custodian,” he said. “It’s not a curriculum or Common Core, but it’s making a connection with a child and giving them a reason to want to be there and letting them be successful.”

The student soon learned that if he was not turning in assignments and making the grades he needed to make, he would not be permitted to continue his job.

“His grades went from struggling to successful,” he said. “That’s what The Leader In Me does: it gives these kids hope.”

Pratt said while dropout rates in VWSD still aren’t where he would like to see them, the National Dropout Prevention Network took notice to things being implemented in the district.

“The Dropout Prevention Network realized the things we’re doing are setting the groundwork for when these children are in high school that they’re not going to be dropouts,” he said. “That they’re going to have the tools to cope with the challenges they have, whatever it is, we’re giving them the tools to be successful.”

Shealy said the project has grown to include countless business leaders, parents, faculty, staff, administrators and students, but the whole thing, all of the synergy, started with just a few community leaders between the Chamber and VWSD.

“I’m so proud of the work of the staff that ensures the execution of the leader in me process,” he said. “Hats off to Tammy Burris and Miki Ginn for being trailblazers in Mississippi and for being the first two, and only, Lighthouse Schools in the state of Mississippi.”

Shealy added he’s also proud of Beechwood Elementary, Dana Road Elementary, Redwood Elementary, Sherman Avenue Elementary and the Academy of Innovation for their expanding and continuous work with The Leader In Me.

“This is transforming our schools and community,” he said. “It is truly a “win-win” for our community. Just like I told the vast crowd in San Antonio, we have the most incredible community and remarkable Chamber of Commerce on the planet.”

The award shows how strong the bond between the business community and the school district is and what such a partnership can accomplish.

“Receiving the Crystal Star Award is a fantastic accomplishment that demonstrates the wonderful relationship between VWSD and the Warren County-Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “Together we are making a difference.”

The accomplishments for VWSD continue in January when they will host The Leader In Me National Symposium.

“I would also like to invite everyone in our community to Mississippi’s first The Leader In Me National Symposium that will be hosted in Vicksburg in January,” he said. “We have already doubled the expected registration so hurry and get your seat.”

Visit www.theleaderinme.org for registration and details.