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Chamber endorses leadership program in hopes of improving local schools

WILLIAMS JONES is president of Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce, which may pay for the school-wide training necessary to implement “The Leader in Me.”

Local educators and business leaders are exploring the possibility of partnering together to implement in one or more schools here a leadership program developed by one of the world’s authorities on the subject.
The group of school and business people met Monday with FranklinCovey representatives, who traveled here from Salt Lake City at the behest of the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the effort under consideration.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” created this leadership process for young people, and explains it in another book, “The Leader in Me.” In that book, Covey shows how even kindergarten aged children can improve their personal leadership skills using the seven habits.
This idea was reinforced at Monday’s meeting when a businessman from Alabama who volunteered to travel to Cairo just to talk about “The Leader in Me” and explain how an elementary school in his town has thrived and improved since he brought the program there five years ago. Donnie Lane said to learn about the program he visited a Raleigh, N.C., school where the leadership idea was first implemented in 1999. Lane said a 5-year-old girl walked up to him, introduced herself, and asked if she could show him a book where she keeps track of her goals. “I was blown away that a child of that age could understand the seven habits and have such self confidence,” Mr. Lane told the Cairo group. Lane’s experience with the program is highlighted in “The Leader in Me.”
About two years after Mr. Lane raised the necessary $25,000 to pay for the training at the elementary school his children had attended, the chamber of commerce there became a leader in the effort, and the program has since spread to 10 of the city’s 12 elementary schools. The Decatur Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s paid manager, John Seymour, who has the title of president and CEO, also traveled with Lane to Cairo. Seymour said he believes so much in the power of the program that he would “travel to anybody that wants to talk about it.”
Seymour said since the implementation of “The Leader in Me” process, he is no longer embarrassed when prospective businesses want to talk about the schools in his county.
William Jones of Richter and Company is the elected president of Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce, and he agrees with Seymour, saying, “the number one contributing factor why businesses want to relocate to a community is education. It’s not whether our education system is bad, because I don’t think it’s bad, it’s good. But, is it an asset? We have to compete with Decatur County and its’ new facilities; we don’t have the sales tax dollars to build a new facility, so we have to compete with what we’ve got and that’s the ability to do things better. This program could help us turn something from good to great.”
Should the chamber board agree, it could fund the program for one school, a one-time $25,000 commitment. Another unnamed backer has agreed to support the program, making it possible for two schools to have the program next year. However, only if a large percentage of a school’s administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and staff show willingness and enthusiasm for “The Leader in Me” will it be implemented.
The elementary school principals who attended Monday’s meeting expressed a readiness to jump on board, either school-wide or by grade level.
Southside Elementary School’s Cheryl Harrison said she is hoping her teachers will catch her enthusiasm for the program. However, “I wouldn’t want to take that much money and do it if there’s not enough people who believe in it to make sure it’s done the way it needs to be done,” Mrs. Harrison said, “I don’t want to go out there charging and not have a really big buy-in behind me.”
Mrs. Harrison and several of her teachers have already read the book in recent weeks, and she says a momentum is building. Mrs. Harrison plans to present the idea to her school for input in the coming days, and will then let the chamber know Southside’s position.
Northside School’s Gloria Fuller is also interested in “The Leader in Me.” Mrs. Fuller said, “I think it would be a good experience for students, and the staff actually, because we all could benefit from the seven habits. Even those of us who have already been through the habits training, we could use a refresher. For the children who may not hear this in their home, they need to hear it at school.”
Mrs. Harrison is considering starting the program with kindergarten, and adding more grades each year. One of her kindergarten teachers has already read the book and expressed confidence in its impact potential. Mrs. Fuller said she hopes to buy copies of the book for all of her school’s 27 teachers.

Eastside Elementary School Principal Kermit Gilliard said Tuesday that he had spoken with the majority of his teacher and they were all extremely interested and excited about the possibility of implementing “The Leader in Me” program at Eastside.
“I participated in the seven habits training approximately 10-15 years ago. Former asst. superintendent Gail Thaxton arranged for local administrators to receive the training. It is an outstanding program, but it must be practiced daily or it is forgotten,” Gilliard said.
The Eastside principal said his faculty bought into the program in large part because of the research that indicates discipline programs decrease while student achievement increases.
“This is not something new that our teachers are not already doing daily, but it includes a vocabulary that when used day in and day out can focus children into becoming good leaders,” Gilliard said.
He plans on meeting with the remaining members of his faculty Wednesday and will be contacting chamber officials to advise them of the school’s interest in participating.
Once committed to “The Leader in Me,” school personnel would take one day to determine it’s school theme or mission statement, then spend three days in training. Scheduling the training may prove challenging as FranklinCovey only agrees to work with about 60 schools worldwide a year.David Hatch, global director of “The Leader in Me,” said Monday, the program has brought positive results to the schools where it is implemented, with students having increased self confidence, abilities to resolve conflicts, and willingness to work with others, and the school realizing greater academic improvement and fewer discipline issues. Through training, teachers learn how to integrate the program into what they are already doing. Mr. Hatch said the allure of the program is spreading around the world, and he is meeting next week with the Minister of Education in the United Kingdom. Whether such a program will take place in Grady County now lies in the hands of its teachers.

For more information about the program, visit

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