Changing the way I look at Louisville

Maggie Harlow

Maggie Harlow (LL '12) owner, Sign-a-Rama

Leadership Louisville 2012 December program day with Jefferson County Public Schools

Just when I think my mind is full and busy with lots of ideas, Leadership Louisville comes along to shake out old ones and make room for new ones. The December Leadership Louisville day took us on an ‘insider’s’ look at education. We faced our own stereotypes and expectations and were inspired by the missions of so many that make our school system better every day.

Our first speaker was the impressive Dr. Donna Hargens, our new superintendent. She takes a complex issue and distills it to remove distractions. She talked repeatedly about “arrows going in the right direction,” meaning continual improvement is what matters. Lastly, the questions to ask every educator to be sure they can answer:

  • How do you know what the student should learn?
  • How do you know if they are learning it?
  • What do you do if they aren’t?

That’s a series of questions I can adapt for my business and employees!

Going from that 10,000 foot view, we were suddenly brought into close focus by seeing schools close-up and personal. I had a chance to tour Western High School, a traditionally “troubled” school for “troubled” kids. The principal, Mr. Mike, was clearly systematic about his processes, clear about limits and discipline, but also a powerful leader who understands kids and teachers want a reason to show up each day. They are on a mission at Western – a mission to get EVERY kid to look at college as their destiny. The feedback from others in the class that visited the North and South Olmsted Academies and Mill Creek Elementary made me a little sad I couldn’t tour them all!

While the Western HS principal was impressive, the teachers, admins and students were stars, as well. I had a chance to visit with a few students – many of whom have parents who are busy with multiple jobs and have no ability to assist them with homework or college applications. These kids weren’t “troubled” in the way I was thinking – when asked “What would you change?” they unanimously said “We would like to get MORE kids in our school talking about college in their future.” Wow – they were only troubled by the fact that they couldn’t get more kids to open their minds to possibilities of education. THAT is a group of kids on a mission!!

Other “Aha!” moments:

  • Meeting JCPS School Board members, who are doing their best in a system that is clearly needing a “fix”
  • Learning what non-profits like Family Scholar House do to fill the gap between education and business – changing lives for generations
  • The large businesses in Louisville that make contributions to education to make their business work, but more directly reward Louisville with better educated workforce and better paying jobs

As old ideas leave my head, I eagerly stuff in some new ones and change the way I look at Louisville and my role in the community!