When approached about the opportunity to possibly serve as superintendent in Florence School District One, I thought about what I wanted to share as a motivational theme for the administrative team, faculty, support staff, students, parents, guardians and community members in support of public education.
The Florence School District One board approved by a 6-2-1 vote in June of 2010. The challenge then and always is to make decisions that are in the best interest of all students.
Having retired as principal June 30, 2005, I had the opportunity to “chauffeur” my father-in-law, who pastored two churches successfully for 50 years, his wife and my wife to the National Baptist Convention for the next few years.
During those years, the convention had as its president Dr. William Shaw, the pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He chose as his convention theme “V. I. S. A.” I called and emailed Dr. Shaw, asking permission to use his theme in my position as superintendent. Without hesitation, he granted his permission to me in writing.
My desire to utilize this theme was energized the similarities I saw in its implementation with churches that were applicable in public education. Vision, Integrity, Structure and Accountability are imperatives in any service delivery setting. Elementary, middle and high schools, like most churches, have a vision and/or mission statement with objectives. Leadership must operate through a clear lens of direction, sight and purpose.
Irrespective of one’s position in the church or school district, individually and collectively we must conduct ourselves with integrity. Everyone must have a firm code of ethics and values in the conduct of responsibilities and in our relationships with others. In most settings, there is structure, job descriptions and a chain of command. We must be true to the orderly conduct of our responsibilities and stay in our lane as outlined by the stated policies and procedures.
Problems develop when we have individuals who usurp authority, operate as “the lone ranger” rather than planting seeds that produce teamwork and harmonious relationships in the midst of diverse opinions. Selfish motives, deceitfulness, dishonesty and lack of communication are negative actions that hinder the establishment of moral foundations.
Everyone must be held accountable for his or her actions. Doing one’s job the right way consistently should be recognized and rewarded. Individuals who violate the rules need to be disciplined with fairness and impartiality, whether adult or child. Effective communication is a key to the positive climate of any organization.
The military has an acronym, C. O. I. K., Can Only If Known. Too, information should be distributed on a “need-to-know” basis only. Thanks to the hard-working administrative support staff, as superintendent I would meet every week with a different group of employees, students, administrators and parents.
Thanks to my predecessor, a commitment was made to protect all of our employees in good standing from losing their jobs during one of the most difficult economic times in our country. Meeting with members of our support staff group, some who were among the lowest paid in our district, required having to answer the question why there were no pay raises. At that time for all employees, priority was to balance the budget through retiring personnel and attrition. Everyone who had a job in good standing kept their job. There were no layoffs or reduction-in-force. Student leadership at all three high schools had monthly access meetings with the superintendent at 7:30 a. m. to ask questions, make recommendations for a better school environment and conduct other business.
I chose to revisit Vision, Integrity, Structure and Accountability because, like Dr. Shaw, myself and any other committed leader, transparency in the conduct of business is a major contributor to being trustworthy, despite not earning 100% trust from the very people you serve. V. I S. A. did not immunize us from criticism, but criticisms were minimized to a few and maximized by an overwhelming majority in our community. Criticism, whether constructive or destructive, comes with the territory of leadership.
Nevertheless, leading by using the principles of V. I. S. A. produced undisputed successes in the schools in academic achievement, student discipline, school construction, faculty and support staff morale, and community trust — all of which I will be eternally appreciative.