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Alpine • Several years ago, Mountainville Academy charter school was in crisis.
The school overspent by about $300,000. Teachers lost jobs. Parents protested. Mountainville's troubles grabbed headlines, and morale was low.
But the school has come a long way since then, say some school parents and leaders, thanks partly to a program called The Leader in Me, modeled after Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Since implementing the program, discipline referrals dropped by 57 percent, the school went from having no students on its wait list to more than 600, and in a parent satisfaction survey last year, 98 percent of respondents said they felt the school "provides a positive learning environment," said school director Emma Bullock. Mountainville is one of 15 Utah schools using the system.
"It has literally saved our school," Bullock said.
Parents and charter school leaders gathered Tuesday to celebrate the transformation. FranklinCovey named Mountainville a Lighthouse Schoolfor meeting nine criteria of the program, such as showing measurable improvement, parent involvement and staff collaboration. And the assembly came a day after the school was named one of two Utah State Schools of Character 2011 by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring.
They're accolades that come just about two years after the school found itself in hot water with parents, teachers and state education leaders. After overspending, the then-board decided to move the school's sixth-graders in with the middle school, dismissing three sixth-grade teachers a move that angered parents. Ultimately, the situation triggered a state investigation, which found the school did not violate the law. And the school's Board of Trustees hired a new director and contracted with a consultant to run the school's business functions.
Bullock, who took over as director in 2009, said one of the best things she did as the school's new leader was purchase and implement The Leader in Me. She visited a school in North Carolina which was the first to implement the program, and said she was quickly sold.
The program incorporates The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, written by Stephen Covey's son Sean Covey, into the school's culture and curriculum. Students and teachers focus on such habits as being proactive, accomplishing work before play and planning. Children keep data folders with individual mission statements, goals, and academic scorecards and they figure out what types of learners they are. Students also take classes in certain subjects based on their ability level, not their grade level.
It's not uncommon to hear the school's young students using the program's terminology for those concepts, which also hangs on classroom walls and in hallways.
"The habits in Leader in Me help us a lot," said second-grader Markus McMurdie after Tuesday's assembly. "Basically, I've been synergizing and working together with other people, and I've been thinking win-win, which is when you win and the other person wins."
Later in the day, during a science lesson about the ways different birds have adapted to varying environments, teacher Ron Lewis encouraged students to "synergize" and "make it a win-win" when working in groups.
"We're learning the skills now that will enable you to create synergy in the workplace, in the home, and it's making you more powerful," Lewis told his students.
They're concepts that might seem too advanced, at first blush, for grade-schoolers or, at the other end of the spectrum, obvious.
But advocates say they're lessons children can understand and schools sometimes need help conveying.
"These life skills, every school knows they need them, but they don't know how to do it," said Sean Covey.
Parents and teachers say the system, along with Bullock's leadership, has made a dramatic difference at Mountainville.
First-grade teacher Judy Powell, who has been at the school for nearly three years, said Bullock and the program have "turned this whole school around."
And Parent A.J. Swope said there's still room for improvement, but he's been impressed with the school since enrolling his kids there in 2009.
"They are 100 percent on the right track, and turning the school around in as short of a time as they have is amazing," Swope said.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 1 • Be proactive you're in charge.
Habit 2 • Begin with the end in mind have a plan.
Habit 3 • Put first things first work first, then play.
Habit 4 • Think win-win everyone can win.
Habit 5 • Seek first to understand, then to be understood listen before you talk.
Habit 6 • Synergize together Is better.
Habit 7 • Sharpen the saw balance feels best.