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From Here to There: A School Leadership Success Story (Piedmont Community Charter)

I believe that when it comes to improvement (personal or school) consistency is more important than intensity. 

One school that exemplifies this principle is Piedmont Community Charter School in Gaston County North Carolina.

In 2015, Piedmont was in the middle of a leadership transition and was underperforming in the areas of academics and student enrollment. It did not have a reputation for being a school or rigorous academics, especially in high school.  

The new Head of School at the time, Jennifer Killen, had an incredible challenge ahead of her. She knew that she would have to work diligently not just on her own leadership capacity, but the skills and the quality of her team. 

Fast forward to this past year and Piedmont Community Charter School was recognized as one of the “Best High Schools” by U.S. News & World Report. They also moved into a state of the art new facility. Piedmont Charter’s new campus cost the school $20 million and features a 70,000-square-foot school building with 32 classrooms on two floors, a full-sized gymnasium for basketball and volleyball games, as well as physical education, a fine arts auditorium with more than 300 seats and an outdoor soccer field.

 
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Want to know how they did it?

Here are six leadership principles that I observed while working with Jennifer and her team implement that moved Piedmont from Here to There...

Casting Vision: By having a clear and compelling vision of the future, it sparks motivation, provides direction to your team, while guiding daily strategy and decision making.

Jennifer and members of her team participated in our Principal Consortium. An opportunity each quarter of the school year to visit other high performing schools in the region. Networking with leaders and learning how they are addressing challenges at their school. 

If you want to improve your school, you also need to expand your vision and improve your thinking. You need to ask questions of school leaders who are ahead of you so you can begin to think and lead at their level. 

Goal Setting: When you set this vision for the future it allows you to write out your goal. Your long term (3-5 years) goals can be broken down into annual goals. Your annual goals into quarterly goals. Your quarterly goals into daily actions.

It looks like this:

  • Long term goal
  • Annual goal 
  • Quarterly goals/benchmarks
  • Daily action

Over the last seven years I have led an annual board retreat for Piedmont. Every year we discuss three major questions. 

  • What did we achieve over the last 12 months?
  • What are we going to achieve this year?
  • Who is responsible for what?

A goal without a plan is a wish. When Board Chair Michael Satterfield began to lead the board, his ability to manage the multiple projects around the school’s expansion were incredible. Michael and other members utilized a spreadsheet as a dashboard to keep every committee on track. As a result, everyone knew where every team and committee was in terms of progress. If more focus or resources were needed, the team or board knew where to allocate resources. 


Building Your Team: Jennifer and the leaders at Piedmont understand that nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved alone. In our Principal Leadership Academy, I teach on six reasons to build a cohesive leadership team.  

  • Teams involve more people, thus affording more resources, ideas, and energy than would one individual.
  • Team’s maximize a leader’s potential and minimize their weaknesses. Strengths and weaknesses are more exposed in individuals.
  • Teams provide multiple perspectives on how to meet a need or reach a goal, thus devising several alternatives for each situation. 
  • Teams share the credit for victories and the blame for losses. This fosters genuine humility and authentic community.
  • Teams keep leaders accountable for the goal.
  • Teams can simply do more than an individual.

Invest In People: Your people are your most valuable asset. In fact, they are the only appreciable asset! Jennifer and her team truly believe in building capacity in all of their staff. When most school’s professional development budget lines are less than their water, sewer and trash costs, Piedmont spends a large percentage (over $100,000 annually) of their revenue on people development. 

Whether it is book studies with their leadership teams, coaching for their leaders, gaining coaching skills for their leadership team or participating in our annual leadership event Live2Lead, Piedmont understands that it is people, not programs, that will be the difference in the organization’s success. 

Go Deep, Not Wide: When planning the annual board retreat, I always ask what specific outcomes are you seeking? The response is always, “Clarity when it comes to Roles and Responsibilities”. Not because they don’t understand, it’s because they want to go deeper and deeper into the understanding and depth of these critical boundaries that charter school board members need to understand.  

The team at Piedmont, like all effective school leaders, finds incredible value in what you already know or what you’ve already started. They improve skills rather than learning new ones. Staying in their strength zones. 

Good schools become great when they focus on the training, strategies and programs they have already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.

They drill down for value and enrichment instead of fanning out. They get REALLY, REALLY GOOD at implementing a program or initiative rather than pursuing the fascination with the new shiny program being offered at a reduced price. 

Evaluate your Return on Investment: This might be the most important strategy I have learned from Jennifer and her team. Once the school has decided to invest in a training program for their teachers or administrators it now becomes part of their observational feedback and evaluation tool. This ensures that the training information is now part of the daily practices. This might be on their walkthrough checklist, observation cycle or collaborative meetings. 

When their entire team went through our Coaching Skills for Leaders training program, we met monthly to continue to practice our coaching skills so they became more fluent with their coaching sessions with the teachers they led.

It was a critical decision they made to get a greater return, rather than a one and done workshop approach.

When I was asked to lead a book study with their admin team, the cost effective strategy was to do it online. The team decided that we would be face to face and block the time each week to read, discuss and implement what we learned from the book LeaderShift!

Jennifer chose this book because of the school’s growth and expansion that was occurring. Leadershift, by John Maxwell, shares the eleven shifts you should make over the course of your career to keep innovating, improving, and influencing others to the highest levels of success in today’s unprecedented climate. 

Everything Piedmont does is done with intentionality, and consistency. 

They understand that there is no fast path to success. 

Remember this: Consistency Compounds. When you consistently make the right choices, they compound and allow extraordinary growth. You have to choose the right choice consistently EVERY TIME, knowing you are planning for your future growth and future self.

As a result of this intentional work, Jennifer and the leadership team have set Piedmont up for long term success in the areas of leadership, operations, academics and governance. 

I am proud to be a small part of their journey. 

Keep making a difference Piedmont!

P.S. Speaking of making a difference, whenever you're ready, here's 3 quick and easy ways I can help you grow yourself, your team and your school!:

1: Join OUR monthly book study or 28 day School Leadership Made REAL Simple challenge (coming soon)

Put succinctly, it's a unique and priceless opportunity to embrace tried, tested and proven principles which have transformed the personal and professional lives of school leaders and schools in countries across the globe.

Click Here for our latest book study on Change Your World

And remarkably, at least for now, they are both free-to-access!

2: Join the Principal Leadership Academy: "The BluePrint for School Leadership Success Strategy" The title reveals why your library is incomplete without it: click here

Note: Use the coupon code SEVEN for 70% off for a limited time

3: Work privately with me and my team: If you'd like to work directly with me and my team to help you scale your leadership or school’s results by 5 to 10 times where they are now, drop me a note by reply with "Private" as the title: when you do, be sure to tell me about your goals, and where you're facing your biggest frustrations - and I'll come back to you.

You can also click the button (top right) or our home page and schedule a meeting: https://www.leaders-building-leaders.com/

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