By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools
People notice. The palpable changes reverberating throughout the building have shaken things up, for the better. That’s why Millcreek Elementary School went a step further late this fall and changed its name to The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary, which reflects a new direction and a new image.
“It’s really not a program – it’s a model and a process. It’s a mindset,” Principal Lorraine Williams explained. “The concept is if you build children’s talents in leadership, then children will succeed, and that success is transferable.”
By applying “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the model emphasizes a culture of student empowerment. It defines school operations, permeates instructional practice and curriculum, and promotes a vibrant leadership development approach. By immersing Millcreek in “The Leader in Me” vision, Williams aims to enhance her children’s self-confidence, initiative and creativity.
“For me, it was redefining how we look at kids. It’s not an answer to everything, but I thought it was a way up. The consensus was we needed to do something different,” said Williams, who launched the effort with a May 2011 staff retreat.
The targeted results are higher academic achievement, fewer discipline problems, and increased engagement among teachers and satisfaction among families. Williams can cite specific examples such as students now tucking in their shirts without prompting and lining up for service projects.
“If you give kids something to do, they have a reason to come to school. You want to be at school? You’re willing to learn,” she said.
The school recently hosted its second annual “Millcreek Gives Back,” which epitomizes its emerging character. Early in the semester, each grade selected a cause or group as its focus, such as the Hartland Hills retirement community, the Lexington Humane Society and the Shriners Hospital for Children. The students then raised money or brought in gifts, presented during a schoolwide assembly – a three-hanky affair with multimedia highlights and heartfelt songs.
“You are giving to people who have less than you,” Williams told youngsters crowded into the gym as she described servant leadership. “It’s about what we can do for other people in this world. It starts right here. It starts now.”
Fifth-grader Nolan J Turner has noticed distinct changes at his school in the past year or so.
“I got to see what it looked like before and what it looks like now,” he said. “You see posters of the 7 Habits, and the classrooms aren’t as loud as they used to be. (Leader in Me) is incorporated in all our subjects, and all the teachers and staff want to help us reach our dreams.”
Whether charting progress in his Leadership Notebook or volunteering around school with the Students Of Service (SOS) group, Nolan J has a newfound sense of pride in Millcreek and in himself.
“If you want to be a leader, you have to be successful in what you need to do – in class and anywhere you go,” he said matter-of-factly.
One way the students support one another is by “filling their bucket,” a sort of emotional bank account. The idea is to avoid criticisms and negative remarks and to give compliments and share encouragement every day.
“It teaches me to be proactive and make others feel good for what they are striving for,” Nolan J said.
Small green-and-white street signs posted around the building, such as “Sharpen Your Saw Junction,” help keep the youngsters on track. A wall of fifth-graders pictured in their graduation caps and gowns is a reminder of a common short-term goal. From teachers’ mission statements outside classroom doors to group projects displayed in the halls, Millcreek is fully engaged in “The Leader in Me.”
“It’s not just something you teach to children. It’s something you live. We have to embrace it in our own lives,” said special education teacher Cyndi Ogden, who noted how relationships are now the priority. “You’re raising children and teaching children who are working to be better people. It’s such a phenomenal thing to be a part of.”
The transformation of Millcreek coincided with the school’s latest renovation, which was completed shortly before winter break. It’s been a total makeover – inside and out.
“If you walk through the building and walk into the classes, the kids respond. It’s bringing order to their lives. Schoolwide, you feel it when you walk through the building,” Williams said. “You can’t help but notice.”