Celebrating ‘just the beginning’ of Leader in Me

By Tim Lilley

Students, teachers and administrators from several Evansville-area Catholic schools joined pastors, diocesan administrators and staff from Koch Industries at the Diocese of Evansville Catholic Center on May 29 to celebrate “just the beginning” of the schools’ Leader in Me program.

In January 2018, the Koch Foundation announced the Culture of Excellence Grants program to benefit 15 Catholic parish schools located within southwestern Indiana and the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Henderson, Kentucky.

Students, teachers and administrators from Evansville Catholic schools join pastors, diocesan administrators and staff from Koch Industries for a group photo during the May 29 Leader in Me Celebration at the Catholic Center in Evansville.

The Culture of Excellence Grants are providing an opportunity for the parish schools to permanently raise the levels of excellence in the spiritual, academic, social and physical education of their students to prepare them to assume leadership roles in their chosen fields based on Catholic values.

The three-year grants total $558,000 in support for the schools. Evansville-area Catholic schools chose to use their grants to initiate Leader in Me training, which is founded in author Stephen R. Covey’s bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®.”

Over the past year, more than 330 teachers and staff members completed the first year of training led by coach Courtney Wildoner of Lafayette, Indiana. Wildoner attended the celebration to report on the early results. Before doing so, she had an opportunity to hear presentations about the program’s early implementation.

Good Shepherd School principal Kristen Girten served as emcee for the event, and she told the large crowd that the first-year focus was “creating culture and launching leadership.” The program opened with presentations from students and staff members about the schools’ work in the “‘7 Habits” areas. All schools included all “7 Habits,” but for the presentations each focused on one of the seven, including:

• Sts. Peter and Paul School, Haubstadt — Being Proactive
• St. Philip School, Posey County — Beginning with the End in Mind
• Corpus Christi School, Evansville — Put First Things First
• Westside Catholic School, Evansville — Thinking Win-Win
• Resurrection School, Evansville — Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
• Annunciation School, Christ the King Campus, Evansville — Synergize
• St. Joseph School, Vanderburgh County — Sharpen the Saw

Representatives from six schools then reported on action teams the schools created using teachers and staff members. Each school reported on one kind of action team, including:

• St. John the Baptist School, Newburgh — Professional Learning Action Team, which focuses on supporting the school staff in living the “7 Habits” daily
• St. Benedict Cathedral School, Evansville — Student Learning Action Team, which focuses on teaching students about the “7 Habits” and helping them share their knowledge with others
• St. Wendel School, St. Wendel — Family Learning Action Team, which focuses on sharing the Leader in Me program and the “7 Habits” with school families
• Annunciation School, Holy Spirit Campus, Evansville — Leadership Environment Action Team, which focuses on “developing leaders who are Saints”
• Holy Rosary School, Evansville — Shared Leadership Action Team, which focuses on sharing leadership roles with students throughout the school
• Good Shepherd School, Evansville — Leadership Events Action Team, which focuses on “leaderizing events” by supporting event-based leadership opportunities for students

Wildoner followed the presentations with a report on the first-year progress she has been able to track through surveys of the participating schools. Before getting into the numbers, she talked briefly about the foundational elements of Leader in Me. “The program’s goal is to communicate individuals’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves,” she said.

Wildoner said Leader in Me is designed to provide measurable improvements in student behavior, teacher readiness, student leadership and family engagement. She reported on the results of her research with our schools in a number of areas. All proved to be within a few points either below or above the LIM averages for schools. The results are impressive with our schools being in year one compared to the averages that encompass the over 3,500 schools participating in LIM. In addition, Wildoner shared the benchmark scores for Lighthouse Certification, a highly–regarded standard that is attainable by every LIM school.

Wildoner saved the best numbers she had for last — announcing that the level of staff satisfaction in our schools was two points above the Lighthouse Level after one year.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daryl Hagan followed Wildoner. “What a difference a year can make,” he said, before thanking the Koch Foundation representatives who attended for their support of this dynamic initiative. “This is just the beginning of what I believe we will accomplish through Leader in Me.”

Koch Industries Vice-Chairman Jim Muehlbauer closed the program with brief remarks, thanking everyone for the presentations. “I love hearing that it’s just the beginning,” he added. “We all know that there is a difference between bosses and leaders. Bosses are appointed, and leaders are elected. You are focusing on providing the knowledge necessary for our young people to become leaders.”