Charles E. Richardson

Do we recognize the geniuses?

Sean Covey from The Leader in Me gets a tour of Carter Elementary by fifth-graders Landon Diaz and Chloe Andayan on Thursday morning.
Sean Covey from The Leader in Me gets a tour of Carter Elementary by fifth-graders Landon Diaz and Chloe Andayan on Thursday morning. wmarshall@macon.com

I first wrote about the “Leader in Me” after visiting A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina back in 2009. How time flies. Chip Cherry, then head of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, Audrey Connely, also with the chamber, Doris Christopher from Georgia College and State University and I, traveled there to see this school in action.

Why this school? A.B. Combs was a Ronald P. Simpson Distinguished School of Excellence, National Title I Distinguished School; National Magnet School of America, National School of Character, North Carolina Governor’s Entrepreneurial School, National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and North Carolina Honor School of Excellence.

In 2009, North Carolina’s education community had it going on and A.B. Combs was its leading light. We were not alone that day. More than 130 people from as far away as Australia had come to see what was going on, too.

It’s taken some time, but “Leader in Me” has taken hold in Bibb County and has turned skeptics into believers. Some basic background. “Leader in Me” is based on Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the best selling book that has sold 25 million copies since 1989. Those seven habits are:

Be proactive.

Begin with the end in mind.

Put first things first.

Think win-win.

Synergize.

Sharpen your saw.

Seek first to understand then to be understood.

Bibb County started slowly, understandably, with “Leader in Me.” (I’m reminded what A.B. Combs principal, Muriel Summers, told us. “Leader in Me” “is not a program. It’s a culture.” That was reinforced Thursday when Stephen Covey’s son, Sean (Stephen passed in 2012) came to town to help kick off a drive to raise $2.1 million to instill the “Leader in Me” culture in every elementary and middle school in Bibb County. “Leader in Me” is in its two founding schools, Burdell-Hunt and Sonny Carter elementary schools, and this year Bernd and Hartley elementary schools were added.

Well Richardson, what does this culture look like? First, it teaches children they are the leaders. That each of them, in order to lead, has to lead the leader within. It gives them the tools needed not just for school, but for life. It empowers them and it spreads that power and common language throughout their schools, their families and communities.

The pilot program has amassed data that proves it can work in Bibb County, but it may not be for everyone. Not every teacher at A.B. Combs could handle the change in culture, but that culture has spread to more than 3,000 schools in over 50 countries. It has worked at the schools in Bibb County because of the commitment of Tanya Allen, principal at Burdell-Hunt and Amanda Marsh, academic coach at Sonny Carter. When given the opportunity, they took the baton and ran with it.

Will Bibb County come together and raise $2.1 million? At the kick off at Sonny Carter Thursday, the people and businesses with that kind of money were in the packed lunchroom. Blake Sullivan, who’s a forester by profession, sounded more like a preacher, as co-chair of the Business Education Partnership, a part of OneMacon that works directly with the school system.

Sonny Carter was the perfect location. The school’s namesake was a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and in the lunchroom in big bold letters was this quote: “To Challenge The Edge Of The Universe.”

Isn’t that what we want our children to believe they can do? I wasn’t a skeptic in 2009, nor am I now when it comes to our children’s abilities to meet that challenge. I am, however, fairly jaundiced when it comes to the capacity of adults to believe in the abilities of all children.

Covey told his audience something he said to his wife, that he wanted to move to Raleigh so their child could attend A.B. Combs. She asked him why? He replied, “Because he wanted their child to go to a school where they believed every child was a genius.”

Can we look in the mirror of our community, say and believe, those same words, and create schools where we believe every child is a “genius”?

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