While attending a Jewish day school convention over a year ago, Diane Troderman, local philanthropist and chair of JESNA, Jewish Education Service of North America, serendipitously learned about “The Leader in Me” program.
An educational program based on the principles of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “The Leader in Me” was designed to develop essential life skills and characteristics students need to survive in the 21st century.
Soon, Troderman visited the A.B. Combs School, a troubled elementary school in North Carolina, as well as Jewish day schools in South Florida, which all had taken Covey’s principles and used them to turn their schools around. Troderman was taken with the work the schools had done.
Now the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, in partnership with Troderman and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, is launching “The Leader in Me” educational program in Jewish day schools and preschools throughout the local Jewish community. The Western Massachusetts Jewish days schools that will participate in The Leader in Me program are Heritage Academy and Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Longmeadow, and Lander~Grinspoon Academy in Northampton. The Springfield Jewish Community Center preschool will also be participating.
“Our schools for the most part are doing okay, but none of them are as full to capacity as they could be,” said Meredith Dragon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “Day school education is in trouble — this is not unique to our community, it is in trouble everywhere.”
To deal with these issues, the Federation set up a Jewish education task force. “For the past year and a half we have really been looking at ways we can help our Jewish day schools reach a greater audience in our community and help promote the benefit of Jewish day school education,” Dragon explained. “What we have been looking at is, what is it that families want from an education, period, and what is about Jewish day school education that makes families start thinking it is a viable option for them?”
“Part of the problem in the Jewish day school world and why we are in a transition period is that we are very expensive…it is an expensive model,” admitted Troderman, who also chairs PEJE, Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. “We are focused now on affordability and sustainability and value-added. Parents have to understand what Jewish day schools can do for their children and their families… Many parents will say, ‘I don’t want to put my kids in a day school, it’s too Jewish’…they don’t know what they are missing. And putting a secular vocabulary into what we do, I think will help parents understand the benefits and beauty of bringing their child up in a Jewish day school.
“We live in a very fragile world,” Troderman added. “Our kids need the kinds of things a Jewish day school gives and the kinds of things Stephen Covey teaches. The ‘can-do’ feeling and the values – what is important and how you treat others – I think it grounds a child.”
By bringing “The Leader in Me” to the Jewish day schools in Western Mass., Dragon said they hope to instill the skills and values students – as well as teachers and parents – need to be successful in today’s world and in the future.
“It is really exciting for our day schools,” she said. “We have found that families want a stellar secular education. And they want their kids to grow up and to have the skills to be successful – however you define success. And what they have found is that these 7 Habits really offer kids the opportunity to be able to learn the life skills that they need now so that as they go through middle school, high school and college, they are able to deal with all of the challenges that come their way. It gives us another opportunity to offer parents something that isn’t happening in any other schools in Western Massachusetts, public or private.”
Thriving in the 21st Century
“The Leader in Me” started in 1999 when struggling school A.B. Combs Elementary in Raleigh, NC was asked to reinvent itself or be shut down. When principal Muriel Summers asked parents and business leaders what they wanted in their schools, the feedback included leadership, accountability, adaptability, responsibility, and other qualities. It represents what most people believe—that schools should not merely be focused on improving test scores, but should provide opportunities for students to develop their full potential. When she attended a 7 Habits seminar, she noticed how comprehensive the habits were in covering the same needs expressed by her community. She and her staff developed a leadership theme and a school mission statement: To Develop Leaders, One Child at a Time. They integrated the 7 Habits into the curriculum, traditions and culture of A.B. Combs.
By 2006, A.B. Combs had become the Number One magnet school in the country.
“A. B. Combs is in an area of North Carolina that is not even middle class. These are kids — some of whom are homeless – who really have other challenges in life beyond education,” Dragon said. “But they completely turned the school around. They went from a school that was failing and could barely attract students to now one of the most successful magnets in North Carolina where it is an honor and a privilege to be able to attend. They give kids these tremendous life skills.”
The leadership model began to be replicated by other schools with similar results. In 2008, Dr. Stephen R. Covey published the book, “The Leader in Me,” which documents the leadership model these schools pioneered and its outcomes for staff, students, parents and community.
“The Leader in Me” is designed to be integrated into a school’s core curriculum, and its supporters say it produces higher academic achievement, fewer discipline problems, and increased engagement between teachers and parents. The goal of the program is to create a school filled with students who are responsible, who show initiative, who are creative, who know how to set goals and meet them, who get along with people of various backgrounds and cultures, and who can resolve conflicts and solve problems. This is accomplished by implementing “7 Habits” principles such as “Be Proactive,” “Put First Things First,” and “Think Win-Win” and integrating them throughout all areas of the schools.
Last year, FranklinCovey, the company that operates “The Leader in Me,” formed a partnership with the Center for Advancement of Jewish Education- Miami (CAJE-Miami) to launch “The Leader in Me: Ensuring Our Jewish Future,” which offers educational training, coaching implementation specifically to Jewish day schools.
“The day schools in Miami were having similar struggles to ours,” Dragon said. “CAJE, is the convening body for Jewish education in Miami and they decided to begin working with the Miami day schools and the Southern Florida day schools and see if they could take the Covey “Leader in Me” model and apply it to Jewish day schools. Miami is the only Jewish community so far, that has taken the “Leader in Me” which is running now in over 400 schools in the U.S. but applied it to Jewish day schools, to create a Jewish day school leadership academy.”
The day schools in Western Massachusetts will be the only Jewish day schools outside the Miami area to institute “The Leader in Me” program.
Dragon said that the principles of “The Leader in Me” are a perfect fit for Jewish day schools.
“The truth is that the Stephen Covey 7 Habits overlap so beautifully on what day schools do already because so many of them relate to Jewish learning and Jewish text,” Dragon said.
“I have been to A.B. Combs three times and down to Miami several times seeing how it has progressed and what it has done in the classrooms, and to the teachers and to the parents,” Troderman said. “And it is one sentence. I say, ‘it puts a secular vocabulary into what we already do in the Jewish day schools.’”
A “Leader in Me” training session was held in June in Springfield and was attended by the entire LYA staff as well as lay leadership from the JCC, Federation and Resource Center for Jewish Education. A three-day Covey training seminar will be held Oct. 23, 24 and Nov. 6 for teachers, administrators, and support staff at all of the day schools. Teachers and other staffers at local synagogue supplemental schools are also invited, as are board members of local Jewish organizations. “The training is pretty universal. It gives you the tools to begin to understand the 7 Habits,” Dragon said.
Teachers and administrators will then take their training back to the day schools and the program will be implemented during the school year.
“We’re really excited about the process and opportunity,” said Rochel Leah Kosofsky, LYA staff member and point person for “The Leader in Me” at LYA. “We’re looking to reflect on what we’ve already done, and what we can be doing now in order to improve and build on our foundations.”
For more information about “The Leader in Me,” visit www.theleaderinme.org