HendersonvillePete Zamplas

The Leader in Me expands: Two more elementaries to develop student problem-solving

Mills River and Upward elementaries were trained for the first time, such as utilizing instructional videos and inspirational slogans like “Find Your Voice.” Later “On-site coaching” of teachers with feedback and tactical adjustments comes twice per academic year from the FranklinCovey Institute.

FranklinCovey has run The Leader in Me in more than 3,000 schools across 50 countries since 2009. The drive is to empower people into discovering and using their strengths, starting in formative years. The basis is Stephen Covey’s book, entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Program tenets include four roles of leadership.

Such principles are mixed into curriculum and put to practical problem-solving use in projects. For example, students might meet with the principal and teachers to solve problems and figure how and where to improve the school. Children get other students involved, such as via clubs.


Dignitaries at HCEF’s 30th anniversary event include Community Foundation CEO McCray Benson, at left, and ‘13-14 HCEF Board Pres. Graham Fields (tallest) of Park Ridge Health. Teachers, students and school officials also listen to then-Executive Dir. Dr. Paul Knott. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The two schools follow Dana and Sugarloaf locally, in the program. Those first two schools have just finished the three-year program. They each gave the public demonstration tours of the program, for one day during school in each of the last two months. The program typically concludes with a special Leadership Day.

The fee is $70,000 per school, with slight costs beyond that over three years to fully implement The Leader in Me, Henderson County Education Foundation (HCEF) Exec. Dir. Summer Stipe noted. HCEF gets donors to back the effort. She noted Curt and Sue Marker are funding three years at a school (Upward). United Way’s Women United Program is helping for a year. Curt Marker foresees “better human beings, and better students.”

Park Ridge Health, Horizon Heating and Air Conditioning, Friday Staffing Services and a Duke Energy community grant also help funding. More donations are sought, to help realize the goal of adding two elementaries per year.

Stipe explained that schools are chosen by school administrators for program “readiness” such as Leader in Me “prep work and the school’s vision.” The aim is to “develop leadership and life skills in students,” in partnership with HCEF and business sponsors. Stipe hopes to keep expanding The Leader in Me locally, and “integrate leadership in the classroom” and boost student self-esteem.

Improved test scores indicate the program works. Sugarloaf has the program’s highest honor as one of merely five Lighthouse Schools Franklin Covey chose statewide for 2016-17. Sugarloaf’s end-of-grade test scores after year two of The Leader in Me soared 50 percent, officials said, while Dana scores also improved.


Summer Stipe is enthusiastic about The Leader in Me success in local elementary schools. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

“The results have been amazing,” Sugarloaf principal Peggy Marshall said. She was county-wide principal of the year for 2015-16. “This program here has completely changed the culture here, in our school. It’s had a great impact on our students, our families and our staff members. Our students have gained more confidence and leadership skills. Our parents are more involved. And our staff members are more engaged and empowered.”

Supt. Bo Caldwell said “The Leader in Me program teaches our young children about citizenship, about leadership, organizational skills — skills that will take them throughout their entire lives, to become productive citizens.”

Foundation leaders also tout The Leader in Me. They did so toward the end of Education Celebration, the Hall of Fame banquet May 11, and also Oct. 13 outside the Historic Courthouse for HCEF’s 30th anniversary.

It “help students take more ownership, for their academic and goal achievement,” Stipe recently said. Skills learned include “responsibility, accountability, problem-solving, adaptability, communication and teamwork,” she said. “These are all key components of workforce development.”

Dan Poeta agrees. He has been HCEF board president since 2015, after two years as V.P. Poeta runs Horizon Heating and Air Conditioning, LLC that helps sponsor the program locally. The business owner knows first-hand about work-worthy skills, and value of harnessing them in one’s younger, impressionable years. He said traits Stipe listed and time management are “traits we look for” as bosses.

Students Luis Hernandez of Sugarloaf and Leiann Marshall of Dana said at the 30th birthday bash how they have developed skills through The Leader in Me. Marshall was in fifth grade and earlier this month graduated from the elementary. She pointed to learning the 7 Habits of Highly-effective People, and getting to “share ideas” in class discussion. This develops those ideas, and group dynamics.


Board Pres. Dan Poeta is all smiles about growth of The Leader in Me and other HCEF programs. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

One teacher who spoke at the event about such gains was Dana lead teacher Andi Marshall.

Testimonies in a promotional video include from Korey Barner. He said as a Sugarloaf student “now I’m fully educated to be a leader. It’s really cool. It’s helped me make new friends…I used be really really shy… The school is like a second home.”

The Education Foundation distributed over $350,000 total in two dozen student scholarships, and in teacher and school grants in the past year. Many point to such help as why Henderson County regularly ranks in the top five among 115 public school systems statewide.

HCEF is evolving into what might be called the first Summer of Stipe in being led by Summer Stipe. She succeeded retired Dr. K. Paul Knott last December. Stipe, 33, is an alumnus of West Henderson (2001) and UNC-CH (2005). Her degree is in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication.

Stipe is versed in “grant-writing, running events and fundraising,” Poeta said. She was a teacher assistant. She ran the Children and Family Resource Center’s Family Education and Support Center. Her husband Derek Stipe’s rock band played the recent Mud Run post-race party. They have two young sons.

Donations sought for The Leader in Me start with $40 to “develop a student leader.” Call Summer Stipe at HCEF (697-5551) for more donation details. For more on The Leader In Me, check http://www.theleaderinme.org, or via local schools at http://hcefnc.org/ourwork/leaderinme/.

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