Using a ‘People First’ Approach to Success

Julie Juvera

Julie Juvera (LL '12) director of legendary people, Texas Roadhouse, Inc.

Leadership Louisville 2012 December program day with Jefferson County Public Schools

Many prosperous organizations’ key to success is focusing on the people who work in their organization. Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks said, “Treat people like family, and they will be loyal and give their all. Stand by people, and they will stand by you. It’s the oldest formula in business.”

As a business leader in the community and as a parent of a child attending a Jefferson County Public School, I was encouraged to learn through my Leadership Louisville experience that we have many leaders in our school system who have the same “people first” philosophy.

Our new superintendent, Dr. Donna Hargens, on her 126th day of work shared with us her strategic vision, mission and goals for the school system. At the heart of her plan are the students. Dr. Hargens said that whenever changes are discussed, she always asks the same question, “little Susie and little Joe still don’t know how to read or write. How is this (process, system, change, etc.) going to help them?” What a great question to ask, because at the end of her day she needs to know that the students are not only learning the core curriculum, but retaining the knowledge as well. She says she will verify this achievement when she starts seeing “the arrows (test scores and other measures) going in the right direction.”

David Mike, principal of Western High School showed us how the same people-centered plan can produce desired results. The key components to his strategy that led to the 49% increase in test scores in his high school included standing behind his teachers and staff, empowering them to teach and holding their students accountable. He also created a goal-setting environment where students are reaching for higher levels of achievement. In this case, his students are eagerly preparing for and setting their sights on college.

Walking the halls of Olmsted Academy South, the first all-female public school in Jefferson County and the state of Kentucky, it was obvious the leaders were focusing on the students first and foremost. The halls were lined with messages of encouragement:

  • “The difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude,”
  • “The difference between extraordinary and ordinary is that little extra.”

My favorite message was written on the wall in the administrative office – “Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching?” This powerful message reminded the school’s leaders that their state of mind affects the students, which in turn affects the bottom line –student performance. The formula is working. Olmsted has seen an increase in test results over the 4 years the school has been open.

Our Leadership Louisville class was not only able to meet with the leaders of the school system, but we were immersed into the schools, gaining a deeper understanding of the 28th largest public school system in the US and its challenges. As Dr. Hargens said, “There are pockets of excellence (in JCPS) and we are trying to create a system of excellence.” Dr. Hargens is on the right path and is driven to reach her goal, especially with 4 of 5 of her Strategic Priorities including a people focus: Student Achievement, Teamwork, Community Engagement, Retaining, Recruiting and Training High-Quality Employees.

I continue to be impressed along my lifelong study of leadership, that the good leaders are those who focus on the results, but legendary leaders focus on their people, who will in turn lead them to success.