Charlotte County Florida Weekly

Life Lessons



SOLD, TO CHARLOTTE COUNTY PUBLIC schools: One Utah-based, corporate bill of “proactive” goods, complete with slogans such as “We enable greatness” and smiling company consultants who will travel this week to Charlotte County to present a symposium and ceremony of promotion for two of its elementary schools.

And that’s a good thing, say school officials.

Beginning in 2009 with one, they have now introduced the county’s 10 elementary schools to the value system and organizational mindset of FranklinCovey, a private, international business-consulting firm.

That means the principal and faculty use the system and even the specific language (for example, “win-win,” “synergize,” “be proactive,” “sharpen the saw”) as they “build a culture of leadership” while teaching the state’s required curriculum to students, who are “provided with meaningful leadership roles.”



It takes some work. Organized work, says Chuck Bradley, executive director of Learning for the Charlotte Schools.

“It’s based on the book, ‘The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.’

“That’s the communication vehicle: those stories in the book and the lessons of the seven habits. And from there, it blends with the curriculum in our schools,” he explains.

It, in this case, is the “‘Leader in Me’ process — not a program, because it’s a learning process,” says Debra Lund, the FranklinCovey company spokeswoman.

Neil Armstrong Elementary in Port Charlotte (above) and Vineyards Elementry in Rotunda are two of FranklinCovey’s 30 Lighthouse Schools worldwide.

Neil Armstrong Elementary in Port Charlotte (above) and Vineyards Elementry in Rotunda are two of FranklinCovey’s 30 Lighthouse Schools worldwide.

“Seven habits is not a flavor of the day, it should be woven into the entire curriculum,” she adds. “So if you’re a student in a science class, the teacher may say, ‘How is this a principle of synergy, in science?’ Or in another class, the teach might ask, ‘How did (Abraham) Lincoln practice habit No. 6, to synergize? Well, he appreciated differences in people, he didn’t judge other people, and he stood up for what was right.’”

Kindergartener Kevin Cox earned a bucket necklace for picking up a hand sanitizer his teacher dropped.

Kindergartener Kevin Cox earned a bucket necklace for picking up a hand sanitizer his teacher dropped.

Mr. Bradley, like several other school officials in the county, has also trained with FranklinCovey instructors to teach the seven habits to faculty and staff as other schools adopt the program — junior high schools and possibly high schools, depending on the choice of principals in those schools, he says. That saves money.

This week, two Charlotte schools, Vineyards Elementary in Rotonda and Neil Armstrong Elementary in Port Charlotte, will be named to FranklinCovey’s prestigious “Lighthouse School” list of about 30 — 30 out of hundreds of schools now adopting the methodology, known as the “Leader in Me” process. Most of those schools are in North America, with a smattering overseas, according to a map on the FranklinCovey website.

First grader Vincent Riggio works on his assignments with the help of his fifth grade mentor, Jake Lille.

First grader Vincent Riggio works on his assignments with the help of his fifth grade mentor, Jake Lille.

These schools and their students have achieved all the goals laid out by the company, officials say.

Cost to taxpayers: “The price of textbooks, basically,” notes Mr. Bradley. “About $5,000 per school, so not much.”



One Lighthouse School

At Neil Armstrong, Principal Angie Taillon says the proof is in the pudding, and this pudding is proving to be an educational epicure’s triumph, if you will.

“When we began, I was one of the first to say, ‘Is this just another thing?’” recalls Ms. Taillon. “But it’s not.

“We were not going to force it on anyone — we went with a coalition of the willing. And now, our discipline rate is down by 60 percent, and that’s in a school where 75 percent of our students are in the free or reduced-price lunch program. We’re not a rich area. And studies have shown that the more your students are at risk financially, the more they’re at risk educationally as well.”

The 7 Habits message is carried throughout the school throughout the day.

The 7 Habits message is carried throughout the school throughout the day.

But at Neil Armstrong, where the seven habits are visible everywhere, “our absences decreased from 9,500 in a year to 5,400, even with a higher population,” Ms. Taillon reports. “Our third grade FCAT scores increased by 10 percent. Our fourth graders scored the highest in the school district on FCAT writing, with 97 percent scoring 3.78 or above — that’s their grade level.

“And our fifth grade FCAT reading and math scores improved by 17 percent and 18 percent, respectively.”

Christie Elyse-Turbiville reads to Destiny Clerjuste, whom she mentors at Neil Armstrong Elementary.

Christie Elyse-Turbiville reads to Destiny Clerjuste, whom she mentors at Neil Armstrong Elementary.

One day last week, Port Charlotte High School students from the Model U.N. program (one of the five top teams in the nation, officials said) were serving as science fair judges at Neil Armstrong Elementary School, where some of them had been students.

The school is a lot warmer and more pleasant now than when they attended, they observed — perhaps because it was completely rebuilt after Hurricane Charley, and perhaps also because of the new attitudes evident everywhere.

Signs and posters from the seven habits appear on walls and on children alike — the seven habits necklace they get to wear for a day, for example, when they perform as positive role models.

Students also earn the right to wear “bucket necklaces” when teachers observe them going above and beyond. Classroom buckets serve as a reminder of each child’s good deeds. Fourth and fifth graders mentor kindergartners and first graders — even some second graders.

And data charts line the walls of the school outside of classrooms. Each chart depicts what students are expected to learn at that grade level. Interestingly, students’ names do not appear on the charts. Instead, each is given a shape and a color known only to the student and the teacher.

“‘It’s a proactive approach to learning,” says Ms. Taillon. “The students own their progress.”

And so does the staff. Even the school’s janitorial staff volunteered to be trained by FranklinCovey, so they can understand and contribute to the culture of the entire school.

“There is no differentiation between my support staff and my teaching staff,” says Ms. Taillon.

It’s one for all and all for one, here.

What’s involved

The FranklinCovey view of things started almost 25 years ago in 1989, when the company’s late founder, Steven Covey, wrote a bestselling book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

He turned the book into a family-owned consulting company that later joined another international business consultant, Franklin.

At first glance, the company appears to have little to do with education. A Google traveler to the company site is greeted by sales pitches for billfolds, purses, file cabinets and writing instruments — plus software for mobile online planning in sales, business and real estate editions, along with this encouragement: “Join the get-organized community.”

If it sounds like positive-speak and looks like positive-speak, it is.

“FranklinCovey is the Dale Carnegie of the 21st century,” observes Elizabeth Elliott, an associate professor of education at Florida Gulf Coast University, and vice president of the Florida Association for the Education of Young People.

“But it’s not religion without the religion. It’s simply seven habits that help children be on time, or prioritize, or respect each other at the K-through-12 level. We tend to complain that students are not prepared to be future leaders, but giving them the skills for effective leadership may be exactly what we should be doing.”

Dale Carnegie probably wouldn’t have disagreed.

Mr. Carnegie, the champion of positive thinking, once said, “There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say and how we say it.”

Steven Covey, a generation later, wrote his first book describing not four contacts but seven steps, a book that was followed in succession by his son Sean Covey’s book, “The 7 habits of Highly Effective Teens.”

That was followed in 2008 by a duet of sorts: his father’s last book, “The Leader in Me: How Schools and Teachers Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time,” and the younger Mr. Covey’s own, “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.”

Scheduled to appear at this week’s symposium and ceremony, Sean Covey offered these comments in the introduction to his morality tale of sorts for children:

“This book can help kids in three ways: First, it will teach them about the power of living according to principles — principles such as responsibility, planning ahead, respect for others, teamwork, and balance.”

The younger Mr. Covey calls those principles “timeless, universal and self-evident.”

Second, he says, “it will equip them with a common language they can use with parents and teachers.”

And finally, he predicts that kids will identify with his characters to “find part of themselves,” and thus adapt the seven habits.

Mr. Bradley says he can see this working on the ground. For him and other Charlotte administrators and teachers, the notions arrive at a propitious time — a time when some of the old lessons about behavior and action have begun to slip away, since today’s parents may not communicate them as clearly as their actual forefathers once did.

“So much of this was taught directly by our parents,” says Mr. Bradley, who is now 50.

“I can remember coming home and being angry at somebody at school. My mother would say, ‘You need to stop, think, and not react — you need to think about what’s most important for you.’

“If you look at the seven habits, it’s a lot of common sense, but very well organized. We don’t see students today receiving those same lessons,” he said, adding, “I’m not faulting parents.”

But now, he says, “(with) both parents usually working, and more distractions, more electronic games, I don’t think those same lessons are getting communicated as well.

“In our day, they were reinforced through neighbors or through church or a synagogue — but today it doesn’t happen for a lot of kids who miss out on those lessons in life.”

Especially following the tragedy in New Town, Conn., all of this becomes both resonant and more profoundly important than ever, concludes Ms. Taillon.

“Sandy Hook — those are things we’re trying to stop. We’re trying to be preventative, to nip it in the bud. We use kind words. We use nice hands. We don’t condemn them for what they’re wearing. So all day long, we promise not to bully.”

And it’s working, she says, echoing the opinions of others. Kids catch on quickly. Sometimes because they have to — it’s all they have.

“Unequivocally, I would say this program saves lives,” Ms. Taillon says.

“I have kids who think they have no promise, who think their lives now are what they will be always. Our message is, ‘If someone else doesn’t care about you, we care. And we will teach you how to do it yourself — how to care for yourself and others.” ¦

— Kathy Grey contributed to this report.

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