Four Iredell-Statesville schools have been selected to incorporate an internationally lauded leadership program into their curriculum starting in August.
Third Creek and East Iredell elementary schools and Statesville and East Iredell middle schools will join 214 schools worldwide already using or about to begin The Leader in Me.
The program grew out of author Stephen Covey's best-selling "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" book.
Iredell-Statesville officials say the program has improved student behavior, attendance and academic performance in schools that have used it for years, including A.B. Combs Elementary in Raleigh, a formerly "at-risk" school that was the first to use The Leader in Me in 1999.
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The four Iredell schools have faced challenges similar to those at A.B. Combs before it began the program, Iredell-Statesville Superintendent Brady Johnson said in announcing the local selections last week.
Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce officials first pitched the Covey leadership program to Johnson and other school officials. They also visited A.B. Combs with Iredell-Statesville school leaders and arranged for a Covey official to speak with them.
"This is not about fixing the schools," said David Bradley, president/CEO of the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce, who noted that Iredell-Statesville already has been recognized nationally as a top school system. "This is about making something (that's) great, greatest."
"It's about integrating leadership into everything we do in the school," said Bill Balatow of Allen Tate Realtors in Mooresville. He is the Statesville chamber's volunteer vice president for education.
Those leadership traits include self-confidence, which is a big part of The Leader in Me, said Phyllis Pegram, principal at East Iredell Elementary, which underwent training for the program this month with Third Creek. Staff at the middle schools will be trained later this summer.
Statesville Police Chief Tom Anderson said he also believes strongly in the program. In 2007, his department hosted a Stephen Covey Principles of Leadership program.
"When you look at successful people, they've got that (leadership) mindset," Anderson said at last week's announcement. "Why not set that path when they're still in school?"
The program also teaches accountability, he said. "It's equipping students with the life skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives."
The Statesville Police Department has contributed $20,000 to The Leader in Me program, and local businesses are being called upon to help fund the rest of the roughly $140,000 in total costs for training and materials for the four schools.
Wells Fargo became the first local corporate sponsor by contributing an initial $10,000, and chamber leaders are now fanning out in the community to seek other business contributions.
Joe Boretsky, the Statesville executive for Wells Fargo, said businesses have a responsibility to help lift education where needed. "It's time for the business community to step up and support the school system," he said.
"Our goal is not a nickel of taxpayer dollars if we can do it," Balatow said.
Johnson said the four Iredell-Statesville schools are pilot schools for the leadership program in the county and other schools could also be considered eventually.