Alabama educator touts plan to beef up schools
Dr. Danna “Dee Dee” Jones, the principal of Somerville Road Elementary School in Decatur, Ala., addresses the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon Wednesday about implementing The Leader in Me. (Pamela Hitchins)
The best habits of leadership could be coming soon to Vicksburg schools — perhaps courtesy of some of Vicksburg’s best leaders.
Members and directors of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce hope to raise support and something a little more tangible — money — to enable three area public schools and one parochial school to launch The Leader in Me, a youth initiative designed by “The Seven Habits of Effective People” guru Franklin Covey.
“For two years, the chamber has been focused on how the business community can make a positive contribution to our schools,” said J.E. “Brother” Blackburn, past president of the chamber’s board of directors and the owner of Blackburn Motor Company. “The Leader in Me (program) addresses needed changes in (student) behavior and attitude rather than curriculum.”
Donations, marked “The Leader in Me,” can be mailed to the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce Community Fund, 2020 Mission 66, Vicksburg, MS 39180. For more information, call the chamber at 601-636-1012.
Wednesday’s monthly chamber luncheon kicked off the drive to get the program into schools. About $50,000 per school to $75,000 per school must be raised through donations, matching and other grants and discretionary school funds, local developer, businessman and chamber board member Bob Morrison III said.
A “very hard-nosed group of business guys who want results” are convinced of the program’s merits, Morrison told about 150 business, school and civic leaders. “It could be transformative. It could change how things are in our community for this generation and for several generations,” he said.
The featured speaker was Dr. Danna “Dee Dee” Jones, principal of Somerville Road Elementary School in Decatur, Ala., which is in its fourth year of the leadership program and was named a Seven Habits Lighthouse School, the 12th in the nation.
Also, a presentation by members of the Bowmar Elementary School community drew a standing ovation. Principal Tammy Burris, teachers, a sixth-grade student and a representative of the PTO explained why Bowmar will benefit from the program, and a video featuring the hiring chiefs of such local standouts as the Engineer Research and Development Center, an arm of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and River Region Medical Center, explained benefits to business of educating students in character traits such as accountability, pride of performance and initiative.
Bowmar is one of two local schools — the other is Bovina Elementary — that are “shovel ready” to implement The Leader in Me in September, said chamber director Christi Kilroy. Two others, Dana Road Elementary and Vicksburg Catholic School, which comprises St. Francis Xavier Elementary and St. Aloysius High School, are nearly ready.
Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford said she strongly supports the initiative and the chamber’s selection process.
“Everyone has leadership potential,” she said. “It’s identifying and building on it that can make a difference.”
A panel of chamber members evaluated presentations from a number of schools interested in implementing the program, Blackburn said, and narrowed the initial field to the four.
The panel looked for evidence that administration, faculty and staff are fully informed about and committed to its principles, said Kilroy.
“They want to be good stewards of any money raised from business and individuals, and not just throw money into a big pot,” she said. “They are setting a standard schools have to reach.”
Jones said her school has seen higher student test scores, increased parent involvement, steady attendance rates and fewer discipline referrals.
“It offers a huge return on investment and puts everyone on an equal footing,” Jones said.
Jones’ school, where 96 percent of the students are on free or reduced meal plans and 24 percent have special education needs,
also has a highly transient student population and presented challenges that the leadership program met head on, she said. It emphasizes self-discipline, commitment to studies, planning and goal setting in adapting Covey’s seven habits, and has especially brought parents on board.
“Supporting this initiative might be the most important thing any of us do as citizens of Vicksburg,” Morrison said. “This is about hope — hope for a better future.”