Longacre documentary showcases the best in students, staff

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published December 22, 2014

 Longacre Elementary School teacher Angie Ritenour’s fourth-grade class participates in Leader in Me activities Dec. 16.

Longacre Elementary School teacher Angie Ritenour’s fourth-grade class participates in Leader in Me activities Dec. 16.

Photo by Deb Jacques

FARMINGTON — Signs of leadership are evident throughout the halls and classrooms of Longacre Elementary School.

Longacre was recognized as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School last spring. From the symbolic, miniature lighthouse that greets you when you enter the school doors to the numerous posters, murals, signs and pictures throughout the kindergarten through fourth-grade school’s hallways that remind students to be leaders, it’s clear: leadership is a requisite here.

“We’re all leaders at this school,” fourth-grader Emmet Noonan said during a school tour Dec. 11 with fourth-grader Sydney Jaworski and Principal Barb Elson in tow.

During the 2012-13 school year, Longacre implemented a “Leader in Me” model based on the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”  and “The Leader in Me” book.

Elson said the book — centered on a nearly defunct school in Raleigh, North Carolina — inspired her so much, she went down to the school, AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School, for training.

The school turned around after implementing the Leader in Me model in 1999. By 2006, Combs Elementary was ranked the No. 1 magnet school in the nation, according to a press release.

“I spent a day in their school, and it just transformed me,” Elson said. “I walked around and couldn’t believe what I saw: It was this peaceful, mannerful way of learning. I could just feel the culture of the school.”

She said she wanted Longacre to be that type of school.

Elson said that when she returned, she and school officials began to implement the teachings of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” with children, along with including other aspects.

Today, Longacre is one of 102 schools worldwide that is a certified “Lighthouse School,” which means that the school and its 300-plus students successfully met 144 criteria identified as critical to the development of leadership within children.

The seven “Leader in Me” habits:

• Be proactive.
• Begin with the end in mind.
• Put first things first.
• Think win-win.
• Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
• Synergize
• Sharpen the saw.

“(I) began to see change in six months,” Elson said. “Saw the discipline referrals reducing, student achievement starting to increase. It is really something that pulls everyone together.”

On Dec. 2, Tri-County Alliance for Public Education — a type of consortium for schools and parents — unveiled a minidocumentary showcasing how Longacre assists students in becoming leaders. The roughly five-minute documentary is part of TCA’s “It’s about Kids” campaign highlighting public schools doing innovative things despite budget cuts and tight finances, according to a press release.

Elson said the documentary, filmed in April, was a thrilling experience.

“We were very excited about that — to be chosen, really. The kids were exciting; the kids were so authentic. To hear them talk about their school,” she said.

“Across Michigan, schools are finding innovative local solutions to help kids learn and succeed, and Tri-County Alliance is excited to highlight the terrific work that Longacre Elementary School is doing to help kids succeed from the earliest stages of their academic careers,” TCA Executive Director Mark Burton said in the press release. “Thanks to Longacre’s groundbreaking effort, kids are solving problems, collaborating with each other and learning life skills that will make them outstanding members of their communities and terrific employees in the future.”

Other schools featured in the “It’s about Kids” campaign include: Avondale High School, New Haven High School and Edison Elementary School.

The documentary included commentary from Longacre parents, students, Elson, and former Superintendent Sue Zurvalec, who spoke on how the leadership model impacted them academically and personally.

“It is seeing our student achievement soar when you have students owning their learning,” Elson said in the documentary.

“We believe in Farmington Public Schools  that a child is not just a test score, but it is really the whole child, how they behave, how they grow, lead, can accomplish things, approach tasks, take on challenges, take risks,” Zurvalec said. 

Noonan and Jaworski, who both proudly showed off their school that day, talked about their goals — Noonan wants to meet the president, write a book and climb a small mountain — and who they admire — Jaworski admires her sister,  a friend and the principal.

“I think it is a great thing to have at your Lighthouse School or Leader in Me School — it really helps you grow into a good leader,” Noonan said.

“(I’m) proud to be in a wonderful school, a Lighthouse School,” Jaworski said.

Elson said the school’s mission statement, “everyone learning, everyone leading,” is an apt description of what students and staff truly practice as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School.

“The adults and kids are learning and leading everyone, every day,” she said while standing in front of the lighthouse. “We all learn so much from each other.”

For more information, go to http://www.farmington.k12.mi.us/lon/.