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June 2012
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Schools considering 'Leader' program

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Twenty-five years after Stephen R. Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" became a best seller, schools around the world are integrating Covey's model into student curriculum.

Covey has written other books since his 1989 work, including "The Leader in Me - How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time." In it, Covey shares the story of how a North Carolina school incorporated the seven habits into its curriculum in 1999. The program, called The Leader in Me, has since spread to hundreds of schools.

Warren County and Bowling Green schools were the first in Kentucky to utilize the program. Paducah Independent Schools leaders are looking at the Warren County model and considering bringing it into classrooms here.

Will Black, assistant superintendent of instructional programs, said Paducah Independent Schools sent a group to Bowling Green this school year to take a closer look at the program. Black was also one of a group of community leaders who visited Bowling Green last month and listened to a rave report about the program's effectiveness there.

The seven habits are: Be proactive; you're in charge. Begin with the end in mind; have a plan. Put first things first; work first and then play. Think win-win; everyone can win.  Synergize; together is better. Seek first to understand, then be understood; listen before you talk. Sharpen the saw; balance feels best.

The program includes training materials for schools and an implementation schedule that helps schools build a common system for empowering students to become future leaders.

"We sent a team (to Bowling Green) to learn more," Black said. "We definitely believe that the "Leader in Me" has value as a tool, especially to help students learn what we call 'soft skills.'"

He explained soft skills are habits that fall outside of the traditional academic curriculum, such as goal setting, collaboration, community support and problem solving. Black said the program also includes the skill development of novel problem solving, which is when students take on a problem they have never dealt with before.

Although "Leader in Me" may not be a "silver bullet" for developing future leaders, Black said, it could supplement schools' existing models for helping kids succeed.

"We believe it could be an interesting tool, but we also believe it's best used with a comprehensive behavior support system," he said.

Implementing the program isn't as simple as giving kids instructions on how to solve problems and set goals. It costs money.

"We would probably have to have community support because it's about $100 a kid," Black said.

In Warren County, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with the school system to help fund the program. In 2013 and this year, the chamber has been working to raise $1.6 million to fund full implementation in all Bowling Green and Warren County schools. It has an additional goal to raise another $1.4 million for new schools that may be built in either the city or county districts, which together have about 18,000 students in 36 schools.

The program can reduce disciplinary problems. In one Bowling Green elementary school, behavioral statistics showed a big change between the first year of using 'Leader in Me' and the subsequent years. During the 2010-2011 school year, there were 252 reports of misbehavior. In 2011-2012, that number decreased to 52, and during the 2012-2013 school year, there were 50 reports.

Morgan Watson, communications director with Warren County Schools, explained the district began integrating the program into its elementary schools in 2008 and is now introducing "Leader in Me" in its middle and high schools. She said school leaders can see kids citing the habits as they use them, such as "being proactive," or "sharpening the tools."

"It's really neat to see a first-grader say, 'I can't play, I've got to do my homework first,'" she said.

Some Warren County students used the model in a community service project which encouraged them to "begin with the end in mind." Watson said students grew out their hair, then received a haircut at a school assembly and donated it to Locks of Love. While many kids participate in hair donations around the world, Watson explained the Warren County students were encouraged to work together and motivate each other in growing their hair out as a part of the leadership model.

The program also incorporates career preparedness. The participating schools host career days, where students can learn how area residents entered their professions.

Day-to-day activities include jobs for some students. A student who may be interested in becoming a reporter can make the school announcements, for example. In the case of one young student who had a tendency to get in trouble for talking a lot in class, teachers told the student "talking is your strength." In reward for not speaking out in class throughout the week, the youngster was allowed to answer phones in the school office at the end of the week.

"It gives them a way to use their strengths," Watson said.

Ultimately, the program is about helping kids better understand they are in control of their futures.

"It teaches kids to take responsibility for their own lives," Watson said. "And it makes more successful members in our  community."

While leaders in the Bowling Green area seem excited about the program's current strategies and potential impact, Black noted that "Leader in Me" isn't the only model for developing leadership skills. However, it is one that has been endorsed by many business leaders, particularly because of the fame of Covey's "Seven Habits."

"It does have potential to really support kids effectively and to create kind of a common language among the schools," Black said. "We're definitely taking a look at it."

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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