Even before the pep talks began Tuesday morning, Bibb County school workers knew it would be a different kind of assembly.
They gave each other massages.
“I do not know what you’re expecting out of your keynote this morning, but whatever you’re expecting, I am not it,” said the featured speaker, Dave Weber.
He had everyone in the Macon Coliseum stand shoulder to shoulder, then turn slightly to the right, then the left, so each person could massage the back in front of them.
Some folks, he said, soon gave him the “stink eye” because he ended the massage session too quickly. The arena erupted in laughter.
Before introducing Weber, school Superintendent Curtis Jones told employees that the gathering was about coming together to make the upcoming school year the best one the system has ever had.
Chris Kirby, an assistant principal at Porter Elementary, said he was excited to have Jones at the helm. After 20 years in the Bibb school system, he said he’s seen a lot of ups and downs.
“I feel very, very refreshed by the common sense that he’s bringing to Bibb County schools,” he said.
Brenda Hickey, a physical education teacher at Porter and Skyview Elementary who is going on 14 years with the district, echoed Kirby’s sentiments.
“I think there’s going to be some changes, and I’m up to changes,” she said. “I think changes are good. I’m looking forward for an exciting year.”
Jones asked teachers for their help trying to reach his goal of a 90 percent graduation rate countywide by 2025.
“We believe in America everybody should graduate from high school,” he said. Jones also asked everyone to back the penny sales tax for education, which will be on the ballot for voters this fall.
“This will be the key issue on the agenda in November ... so let’s get behind ESPLOST,” he said.
Jones reiterated his goal to change the perception of Bibb schools, stressing that he wants to cultivate a culture of honesty, trust and open communication.
He alluded to an email he received from one teacher that read, “I don’t trust anybody. Can I trust you?”
He told employees the school district is going to prove it can be trusted.
“Open communication and trust is something we have to work on every day,” he said.
Jones concluded with a call to adopt those simple ideals and values. Doing so will “transform everything” done on a daily basis, he said, and lead to “victory” in the schools.
When Weber took the stage, he said Jones told him he wanted his presentation to be the best the school system had ever heard.
The motivational speaker — who has worked with school systems from Miami to Maine and the Carolinas to California — confessed that he was once described as “the Energizer bunny on crack.”
“I want to challenge your perspective on what leadership is this morning,” he said as he turned to a PowerPoint slide showing a pawn — a chess piece — prominently displayed.
While some people may consider a pawn as the “expendable” or least valuable piece, Weber said he wanted to redefine that notion in the minds of employees.
“One or two savvy moves with a pawn can radically influence the outcome of the game,” he told them.
Leadership, he said, has traditionally revolved around “title, authority and responsibility,” but he contended that it’s more about influence.
“A leader is anyone with influence,” he said, adding that the teachers have the ability to influence students every day of the school year.
The presentation struck a chord with many on hand.
Kathy Gabriel, the administrative assistant to the chief financial officer, said it was unlike any other Bibb convocation she’s seen in 28 years.
Kirby said he thinks Jones’ plan to inspire leadership across the district is solid and “doable.”
“I feel like everyone is getting reinvigorated for another school year,” he said.
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 or find him on Twitter @davidcschick.