Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Implementing Amidst Skepticism

In 2013, Market Street Services was retained by a collaborative group of leaders and organizations in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia to facilitate a community and economic development strategic planning process. This process came to be known as One Macon.

It didn’t take long for public education to emerge in the public input phase as the community’s greatest competitive challenge and its most divisive issue. As our Competitive Assessment noted:

“When asked about the biggest challenges in Macon-Bibb, one input participant said, ‘1A and 1B are race and education.’ This sentiment succinctly summarizes a clear picture that emerged throughout the input process: the K-12 education system is one of the largest and most important challenges in Macon-Bibb, and the issue is inseparable from larger issues of race and class. In the eyes of many input participants, Macon-Bibb’s K-12 education system is better described as two systems divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. According to focus group participants, one is private, predominantly white, and performing at a high level; the other is public, predominantly black, and badly struggling.”

In the 2011-12 school year, the graduation rate in all Bibb County Schools was 52.3 percent. This was the fifth-worst rate among the state’s 179 traditional school districts and 17.5 percentage points below the state average for all systems (69.7). On the ACT, a national standardized test for college admissions, Bibb County students scored an average of 17.3 in the 2010-11 school year, nearly four points lower than the national average (21.1). Furthermore, while others made progress, the average score in Bibb County Schools dropped by 1.1 points between the 2005-06 and 2010-11 school years.

The leadership of the One Macon process, embodied by a Steering Committee of community leaders, quickly prioritized education in the strategic planning process; “Schools” accompanied “Jobs” and “Places” as one of the three pillars of the One Macon strategy. Throughout 2013, the Steering Committee reviewed a series of best practices and potential recommendations, and ultimately determined that The Leader in Me, a leadership program targeting elementary schools (and subsequently middle schools), was an appropriate fit for Macon-Bibb County. The program and its early success stories – notably A.B. Combs Elementary in Raleigh, North Carolina – have been well-documented, and the program is now being implemented in more than 3,000 public, private, and charter schools around the world. To help secure funding, establish a pilot of The Leader in Me program, and advance a series of other collaborative education initiatives, the One Macon strategy called for the establishment of a new Business Education Partnership (BEP).

Fast forward to October 2014. Roughly six months after the One Macon strategic planning process concluded, the first meeting of the new Business Education Partnership (BEP) was held. Decades of failed partnerships and false starts – many predicated upon a lack of trust rooted in the aforementioned “white flight” from the public school system – resulted in an aura of skepticism about the intentions and viability of a Business Education Partnership in 2014. On that day in October 2014, the Business Education Partnership discussed a series of values to uphold (candor, mutual respect, courage to discuss difficult conversations, and commitment to action, among others), and a set of characteristics that they wanted to avoid (fear of conflict, defensive dialogue, and lack of accountability, among others). 

Fast forward another three years. The Business Education Partnership and the One Macon initiative have successfully launched the Leader in Me in multiple elementary and middle schools throughout the community, supported by a $2.1 million campaign to fully fund implementation across all 27 elementary and middle schools. In April of this year, the Griffith Family Foundation made the largest donation to date – a $250,000 contribution to support expansion of the program in the years ahead. The program has just begun its third year in two elementary schools that served as the initial pilot programs – Sonny Carter and Burdell-Hunt Elementary – while others are entering their second year. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators have all noted the impact in just one or two years of implementation. The program is often frequently cited for its impacts on student’s commitment to their coursework, communication habits, and leadership attributes, which manifest themselves in a variety of outcomes. Student suspensions at the two pilot schools were cut in half in just the first year of implementation, dropping from 352 incidents to 168. 

You can read more about Macon-Bibb’s Leader in Me implementation progress here:

The program’s implementation, the Business Education Partnership (BEP), and the entire One Macon strategic planning and implementation process would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, and the One Macon Steering Committee. Numerous chambers of commerce around the country have led successful efforts to launch The Leader in Me in the community’s school system; the Decatur-Morgan County (AL) Chamber of Commerce helped advance the first district-wide implementation of The Leader in Me in the world. Many other chambers were inspired by the remarks delivered by Leader in Me students at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) Annual Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2009. ACCE is a great resource for other chambers looking to learn how their peers have led these successful initiatives, as are your peers in Macon-Bibb, Decatur-Morgan County, and others around the country.