At the time of this writing, the Helena-West Helena School Board and Superintendent John Hoy are in attendance at the Southern Region Leadership Conference in Hot Springs with board members and administrators from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. At this conference, we will get a chance to learn with other school board members what is working in schools across the country and, in some cases, things to avoid that have not helped districts to function more efficiently and effectively. We have also learned at many of these conferences about the various issues that are affecting education at the state and federal levels.
One issue that was dealt with in our opening session was the importance of strong, ethical leadership at the board level. Without strong leadership that is ethical that leads to strong governance, school districts will not function well. I am proud to say that this group of school board members exhibits many of the qualities that are hailed by experts nationally as those that are necessary for boards to possess and to form an effective district where achievement levels rise. However, these characteristics of quality leadership are not limited in their application to just School Boards. All of the governing entities in our city would be well served to strive to reach these ideal characteristics.
1. Leadership is a product of inspiration, not manipulation.
We were shown in that opening session that effective leadership exhibits five qualities. One is that it is a product of inspiration not manipulation. We should be inspired to chase a noble goal not engaging in reactionary manipulation to achieve a purpose unrelated to the overall success of the organization. This school board has consistently shown that our primary interest is providing the children of this district the best opportunities possible and to make this district a source of community pride. This goal is our inspiration.
If only all governing bodies focused on making our city, our state, and our country the best it can be instead of representing the interest of themselves or narrow special interests.
2. Leaders do not seek power but are driven by a passion to achieve a noble cause.
The second quality of true leadership we learned was necessary for an effective organization was the presence of individuals or a group that was driven by passion for a noble purpose not the pursuit of power. Again, I am proud of our board in that we have shown a willingness to put the best interests of the district and its students at the forefront of the decision-making process, even when it hasn’t been easy or popular. That isn’t true of all governing organizations who often make decisions that are clearly motivated by the maintenance of their own political power, even if it comes at the expense of the best interest of the constituency they serve.
3. Leaders see their work as a calling.
This school board has shown repeatedly a passion and a drive that goes beyond normal political ambition. We see this work as serving a higher purpose, much like the ideal we often ascribe to those that enter the ministry. Our compensation is the satisfaction of moving the district forward and helping the students we serve. All government bodies would benefit from an infusion of this mindset and it is an honor to serve with a group of people who share this value, which also requires the fourth characteristic of quality leadership from our opening session, which is a servant’s heart.
4. Leaders possess a servant heart.
We can’t be successful if we are motivated by a desire for something that reflects selfish ambition or that serves to place a higher priority on the maintenance of continued election over what is right. We are not put into office by the voters for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. We are put here to serve the people.
I am proud that I serve on a school board that has collectively shown a servant’s heart in our approach to handling our affairs. It pains me when I see other groups take action that is clearly motivated by selfishness, a thirst for power, and greed, which occurs at all levels of government in our modern society.
5. Leaders take a risk to do what’s right.
We can’t be afraid to take a risk to do what is right. Our school board has made many tough decisions to advance this district over the years leading back to the return of local control and in the months since. I am proud of that record. I think we were doing our best work when it was the hardest and, at times, unpopular. But each time we faced the political gauntlet, we rose to the occasion to do what is right even when it caused some people to become angry with us.
A friend of mine recently told me that you know you have political courage when you support something because it is right even though you know it is unpopular with an election on the horizon. Our board has done that more than once and the dividends have shown in increased test scores, financial stability, new elementary facilities, and community support for the first tax increase for the district to build new high school facilities in approximately thirty years. It has also paid off with more a better reputation with those in education and policy making circles in professional organizations and at the Arkansas State Capitol.
We are headed in the right direction in the Helena-West Helena School District. If all organizations in the community will strive to exhibit the five qualities of leadership discussed at the opening session of our conference this week, then our community will see similar success to what is occurring within our schools.
Until next time, GO COUGARS!