Laying a Foundation for Success at Kenwood Leadership Academy
This month, we had the opportunity to talk with Jillian Schulte, Magnet Coordinator and 21st Century Learning Specialist for the Kenwood Leadership Academy, which is part of the Cedar Rapids Community School District in Iowa. The purpose of the conversation was to learn about the district’s new leadership magnet school that is based on Steven Covey’s Leader in Me program. Below are the excerpts of our conversation.
MSA: Can you first share the background of the Cedar Rapids magnet program and how it got started?
Schulte: The Cedar Rapids Community School District is in the third year of developing its magnet program that includes three schools with two more on the horizon. In the fall of 2015, it opened its first elementary magnet school, the Johnson STEAM Academy and in the fall of 2016, it opened the Kenwood Leadership Academy. Prior to becoming magnets, both were formally identified as schools in need of improvement. After the Johnson STEAM academy was launched, the district’s school improvement advisory committee decided to explore the idea of creating another magnet school after observing the success of its first magnet school and recognizing that parents in the community appreciate having school choice. The concept of Kenwood Leadership Academy was developed organically. At the time, the school’s staff were already interested in leadership principles and the Leader in Me program after hearing about it at a local symposium and researching the program through a book study.
MSA: Why did the Cedar Rapids Community School District decide to launch a magnet program? Was it to help foster school diversity or was it to instill innovation?
Schulte: The district began the magnet program for both of those reasons. It really wanted to pay attention and stay abreast of progressive and innovative approaches to education as well as provide students with integrated learning experiences. It is also to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our learners so that they will stay in the district. Cedar Rapids is facing declining enrollment because students are choosing to open-enroll into suburban school districts that surround the city. As the magnet program flourishes, the district is beginning to see students from parochial schools and those that have open-enrolled out of the district return. We have even had a few students choose to open-enroll into the district from the suburbs because of the magnet program.
MSA: Can you share some of Kenwood’s journey of becoming a leadership magnet?
Shulte: Kenwood is in the second year of implementing its leadership magnet theme. We are focusing a lot of our attention to aligning the Leader in Me principles with our academic content with an innovative approach to learning, whether it is a blended approach, makerspace experiences, or project-based learning. That is one of my roles as the magnet coordinator, to help co-create these experiences with our teachers. They don’t occur every day, but leadership habits and concepts are evident on a daily basis. They are expressed in leader binders that students use to track their learning and record their personal goals, academic goals, and community contributions.
We also understand as a magnet school we need extra time to focus on the fidelity of our theme. All of our staff have participated in the Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People signature training. During the summer our staff also participated in five “magnet professional learning days.” This entailed exploring different learning modules that are a part of the Leader in Me process. This training all translates or filters down to our students when our action teams create lessons for explicit instruction of the leadership habits, paradigms, and principles. These lessons are shared with students every morning during 20 minutes of LEAD time to help shape their day.
MSA: We understand that Kenwood developed a family survey that helps you gauge your progress and make improvements to the program. Can you talk about that a little?
Schulte: We knew that we were not going to see our Iowa Assessment scores or summative assessments skyrocket after only a year of being a magnet school. We therefore intentionally looked for ways to demonstrate our effectiveness. Everyone who is at the school can see and feel the change that is occurring and we wanted to be able to share that with the community because they are investing in us. We also wanted to gain the perspective of our parents. To achieve that goal we created a 13 question survey with the help of data analysts from our district. It aligns with the different aspects of the Leader Me paradigms and the Magnet Schools of America Standards of Excellence.
We conducted the survey earlier this year and it was completed by about two-thirds of our families. It asks parents such things as, whether their child is practicing the 7 Habits at home or whether their child is setting goals at school and creating a plan to achieve their goals. By reviewing the results of the survey we were able to perform a “dip stick” test to observe how we are performing in relation to the paradigms and standards. If we notice any deficiencies, we adjust how we approach our LEAD time with students or focus on improving our = family communications. As a result of this work, we implemented a 7 Habits Family Learning Series. This process has been very helpful and we are going to give a similar survey to our staff and students this year.
MSA: From your experience at Kenwood do you have any guidance to share with other magnet school leaders who are trying to start a magnet program?
Schulte: Kenwood does a very good job at intentionally measuring and sharing what we care about. There are so many different things to concentrate on that it is really easy to get lost in the excitement of it all. As a leadership magnet, we are always looking to share information about the fidelity of our theme and how it connects with math, language arts, and other subjects. We are also intentional in how we communicate with our parents and post on social media. I think that it has really helped us get results. We also went to great length to develop our mission statement and we use it to filter or guide all our activities at the school. This helps us stay focused and adhere to our leadership theme.
MSA: What other plans are in place for the Cedar Rapids magnet program?
Schulte: Strategically, the district is working to create a K-12 pipeline for students to experience learning in a different way. This fall, Cedar Rapids opened its first magnet middle school. It has a business theme and will provide three main pathways of learning; STEAM, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, and Global Systems. It is really beautiful because the school encompasses both magnet themes that are currently offered at the elementary school level. This will be attractive to the students who are used to the hands-on, project-based learning offered at Johnson STEAM and those that are familiar with the tenants of goal setting and leadership principles that are offered at Kenwood.