Principal Matt Mercer can already see some changes in how he handles his job as a third-year principal at Belfry Middle School. Mercer is participating in leadership training at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) as part of an unprecedented statewide initiative sponsored by state business leaders.
Kentucky businesses have an ambitious goal for their public and private schools — improve academic achievement by investing in leadership training for hundreds of principals.
Two groups of principals — 48 strong — traveled to CCL’s Greensboro, NC campus for three days of customized training in June 2011. Educators returned to their respective school districts creating a lot of positive buzz around the launch of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Leadership Institute for School Principals. “There has been an amazing reaction,” says Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of theKentucky Chamber of Commerce. “We want to make a difference by empowering school principals. We researched training programs around the country and we decided on CCL because its focus is the individual. CCL has a track record of working with education leaders and monitoring results.”
CCL brings to this exciting project a long history of empowering educators at all levels — from elementary school teachers to university presidents — to reach their leadership potential.
“We’re proud and honored to be a partner in this initiative,” says CCL’s Education Manager Deborah Friedman. “The feedback I’ve heard from principals so far is that the program is powerful and that it helped them become more aware of who they are as a leader and where they need to go.”
The two groups of 24 principals are scheduled to attend two additional sessions in Kentucky over the next seven months to assess their leadership styles, understand how they are perceived by others and to learn how to manage change, conflict and personal influence. Individually, principals will team with a coach to support their efforts to reach their personal goals for change.
As a third-year principal of Belfry Middle School, the training has helped Mercer refocus on time management. “It’s easy for our jobs to become our lives,” he says, which can lead to early burnout.
In previous professional development training, Mercer notes, most of the emphasis was on helping teachers, students and parents. “This training focused on us as individuals, with the notion that this would help us positively affect those around us,” he explains. “It was enlightening and beneficial.”
Mercer, who has three daughters, says his leadership training is similar to the effort he puts into training for marathons. He runs at least five days a week with his wife or friends and recently completed the Louisville Kentucky Derby half marathon.
“Just as running makes you feel better in life, going to the institute rejuvenates your career. The institute allows you to better prepare yourself for the race you’re running in your profession.”
At Belfry, which has been named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and recognized nationally as a Kentucky School to Watch, Mercer is faced with galvanizing a 550-student public school where most of the children are in coal-mining families and 70 percent receive free and reduced-price lunch. “We have to challenge the kids and their mindset and show them that there is a better way through education,” he says.
Mercer, who comes from a family of educators, is appreciative of the effort by his state’s businesses to invest in school leadership. “It will make a difference in Kentucky,” he says.
Kentucky businesses raised $400,000 for the leadership institute, including a $200,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation. According to Adkisson, the Kentucky Chamber hopes to create a five-year initiative to send at least 100 principals annually through training at CCL. They will target new principals, primarily those who have served one year in their positions.
“Principals are called on more than ever before to manage change,” says Adkisson. “CCL will be a great resource for school leaders as they deal with standards, testing and technology.”