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  • Thoughts on Leadership

    Last month, thanks to a Facebook post by Laura Gassner Otting, I saw this "Leadership Top Ten List" compiled by her friend John Hoang Sarvey, who died in November at the age of 45. This list now has a place next to my computer at work, the same place where Sarvey had his, and if you read through it, I'm sure many of you will find it next to yours.

    It is truly excellent, and makes me wish I could have met Mr. Sarvey.

  • Stories Published in National Magazines

    Life as a freelance writer has its challenges, but the diversity of topics you get to work on is often fascinating.

    Since March, I’ve had six different pieces published by national organizations, and more are coming soon. Of those already available, five of the six are for two education associations (ASCD and the National School Boards Association), while the sixth is a piece written for the Minority Corporate Council Association (MCCA). 

    Even the MCCA story has an education component. Titled The Future of the Legal Profession and published this week, it focuses on the winners of the organization’s LMJ Scholarship. The winner who starts off the story,  Jiali “Keli” Huang, has a fascinating tale to tell.

    Here is a list of what has been published recently. (Click on the link to access or download any of the pieces, unless otherwise noted.)

    • Early Start on STEM (May-June 2015): Early colleges take on many guises and forms, ranging from separate campuses that serve small groups of students in a targeted manner to schoolwide initiatives that offer college-level courses to all eligible students. Students at the STEM Early College, a partnership between North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools and A&T that opened in 2012, will graduate from high school with up to 60 hours of college credit in their chosen field.
    • Electronic School: Tech Visits (March-April 2015): Any school leader knows that ongoing success is contingent on factors that go beyond who lives and works in your community. When your technology programs are versatile enough to be replicated in other districts, that’s even better.
    • Principal Leadership: Focus on Professional Development (Winter 2015): The days of leadership by decree are gone, as this series of stories written for ASCD's quarterly "Policy Priorities" newsletter shows. Today, successful principals collaborate, communicate, and share responsibility with their teachers and staff. They understand the job has evolved to one that puts instructional leadership first, even when the mundane, though equally important, day-to-day administrative demands threaten to interfere.

    The next two articles, written for ASCD’s “Education Update,” point you to a landing page where you can read a short sample of the article. Entire issues are available for purchase and download.

    • The Final Push Before Summer (May 2015): What schools can do between the end of standardized testing and the ringing of the last bell to set the stage for student success in the next year and beyond.
    • Reaching Them Early On (March 2015): Schools and cities are scrambling to provide early intervention as infants and toddlers suffer from the highest rates of poverty in the nation.

    Meanwhile, as part of my work for AASA’s 150th anniversary issue that was published in February, I’ve also written up and edited transcripts of interviews conducted with 16 top education leaders. The interviews, which are being archived and likely will be used online, provide a great deal of insight into the organization, its advocacy efforts over the years, and its victories and struggles.

    What is fantastic about this is that it gives readers an opportunity to see the full interviews, which had a lot of fascinating tidbits and insight that did not make it into the six features I wrote for the organization. (You can read individual stories or all six here on my website.) 

    The interviews include AASA’s current and former executive directors (Daniel DomenechPaul Houston) key former staff (Bruce HunterGary MarxFenwick English), board members who made a dramatic impact (June GablerSarah JeromeEugene White), D.C. area education leaders (Anne Bryant/Thomas ShannonGene CarterJack Jennings), state association leaders (Ozzie RoseWalt Whitfield), and longtime AASA members (Burke RoysterPeter Corona).

    Access the individual interviews by clicking on the person’s name, or see the entire set in one document here.

    Thanks for reading, and if you know anyone who’s in the market for a good writer, let me know. Right now, I don’t have much to work on, and as you can see, I like to stay busy.

  • Joplin's 'Amazing' Year

    Note: This is an edited version of the web-only essay that was published to promote the Joplin Schools story I wrote for American School Board Journal

    You never know who you’re going to bump into at a conference. But after a couple of days, I usually have a pretty good idea.

    Each year, I meet a board member or superintendent early on, either on the shuttle bus or in line at the hotel. And over the course of the next several days, I seem to see that person everywhere.

    Last year, that person was Randy Steele.

    Randy is a school board member in Joplin, Mo., and justifiably, he was proud of the Magna Award grand prize that his district was receiving for a program called “Bright Futures.” Over the course of the three-day meeting, I saw him everywhere—in the hallway, in sessions, at the Magna luncheon. By the end of the week, it had become something of a running joke.

    What happened in Joplin just six weeks later was no joke.

    An EF-5 tornado cut a three-quarter mile path through the middle of this Missouri community, ultimately claiming 161 lives, causing $3 billion in damage, and destroying several of Joplin’s school buildings. Immediately, the American School Board Journal staff reached out via Facebook to Steele and Superintendent C.J. Huff, asking if there was anything we could do.

    This feature story is the result. 

    Over the course of a year, I followed a remarkable tale of resilience and recovery, of looking ahead when it is more tempting to look back. It’s a fascinating study of how tireless leaders — board members and administrators — turn crisis into opportunity as they work to protect students and staff and prevent them from having a lost year.

    ••••••

    The first section of this essay was taken from my editor’s note that appeared in the May 2012 issue of the magazine. We wrapped up the print edition in late March and by the time it appeared, there were a number of things to update:

    • Just after the issue went to press, voters narrowly passed a $62 million bond issue that will help in the district’s rebuilding effort. Joplin High School is the centerpiece of that effort; all of the pictures in the print edition are from the devastated building that is still being razed. (You also can find more pictures from the high school and the Joplin community that I took last year here.)

    • A week after the construction referendum, former board chair Ashley Micklethwaite announced that she has accepted a job with Mercy Health Center in St. Louis and will leave Joplin later this year.

    • The district has started working on plans for President Obama’s commencement speech on May 21 — the day before the first anniversary. The next day, ceremonial groundbreaking ceremonies will be held for the new schools.

    C.J. Huff, who has done yeoman’s work in leading the district’s recovery efforts, told the Joplin Globe that he and other administrators know that May 22 will be a tough and emotional day for the community’s residents.

    “Everybody is in a different place,” Huff said. “Those days will bring a lot of celebration and a lot of reflection. As we reflect on the past, we have to think about the future. It’s just another step in the healing process.”

    The year has not been without its glitches. In fact, Joplin is facing a lawsuit from the out-of-state contractor hired to demolish the high school. People who remain unsettled by the storm were upset that their taxes would go up and voted against the referendum, which passed by a 57-43 margin.

    But none of that should put a damper on the remarkable story of Joplin’s school leaders.

    Just before the issue went to press, I asked Randy if I would see him at this year’s conference. The new board president said he wasn’t sure, and ultimately he did not go. The reason: The meeting conflicted with Joplin’s prom.

    In Boston for the meeting, I got onto a packed shuttle and headed toward the back. This time, I bumped into Mickelthwaite. She had been remarkably candid in our talks last November and again in March, talking about the loss of her home, the struggles of her community, the changes in her job — Joplin’s Mercy Hospital was destroyed in the storm — and the hard work going on in the district.

    As we rode toward the convention center, she told me about her decision to resign from the board and leave her hometown (“It’s tough, but it’s time,” she said). She also talked of the resilience — and the grind — that everyone continues to face.

    “It’s been an amazing year,” she said.

    Indeed it has.

    To read the story, go to this site's Magazine Features section or click on "Restoring the Future." To read my earlier essay, written right after the Joplin tornado, click here