The annual LEAD University Summit kicked off Wednesday morning with a video of students thanking their teachers for their impact both inside and outside of the classroom. It quickly continued with LEAD Academy High School graduate Simba Woodard captivating an audience of more than 200 staff members with spoken word.

My mama was one of the first 
Said I gotta get my babies out of here
She hadn’t finished school
Mind was paralyzed
Misfortune in her lesson plans
Objective of the day was to make her babies free 
She said Mr. Kane
lead my children's footsteps to lands my people ain't know existed
Show them there is worth in their existence.”

When he finished, the Southern Illinois rising junior received a well-deserved standing ovation for the story, performance and overall message as LEAD Public Schools kicked off LEAD University Summit 2016, an opportunity for all staff members to join together in final preparation for the 2016-2017 school year, which begins two weeks from today on August 3. (To view Simba’s full performance, please visit this link).

“Thank you for choosing LEAD,” CEO Chris Reynolds said in his LEAD Summit remarks. “More importantly, thank you for choosing education as the place to deploy and develop your individual talents. I believe that education is the most powerful human force for good that exists on our planet and we are purveyors of that force.  Our work is without a doubt making the world a better place.  We are preparing our students to lead lives of honor, of fairness to others, and lives that through education and knowledge will create a more just society where equity and peace prevail.  Thank you for your commitment to this work.” 

The morning sessions covered the network’s newly-unveiled mission (“LEAD Public Schools prepares all of our students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in life”), strategic planning and academic priorities for the year.

It also included a LEAD staple: a school Roll Call competition geared toward team building in which every campus, and the network support office, came with energy, pride, and a common cause to show who they were and why they do this work. 

“Be better tomorrow than you were today” 

LEAD U is the network's annual professional development workshop, held each July in advance of the coming school year. It officially kicked off on July 6 with the Leadership Institute for school directors and leadership teams at Lipscomb University and continued on July 11 with New to LEAD, when more than 50 new staff members sat together inside the Brick Church: A LEAD Public School.

There, LEAD Academy alumna Jamila Hill ’14, her mother, Sandra, and Ms. Norma Harris, LEAD’s first-ever employee, offered some words of wisdom. When asked the three ways in which they would challenge teachers to work with our students this year, they didn't hesitate to share.

“If you have a student who you get really close to, stay in their lives,” Jamila said. “You meant something to them and you were probably their greatest influence.”

“Most important is to always be yourself,” said Ms. Hill, whose son, Tyrik Langston, graduated from LEAD Academy in May. “The kids watch. They want to feel that personal connection.”

Ms. Harris, who is moving to Brick Church as the office manager after nine years at LEAD Academy, challenged the new staff.

“Always try to be better tomorrow than you were today,” she said.

The scene opened New to LEAD, one of five components of the networks month-long professional development workshop for new and returning staff that emphasizes classroom best practices, team building and the LEAD network mission.

As the largest non-profit charter management organization in Nashville, LEAD serves the needs of more than 2,000 students and families across Davidson County.

Other sessions

Staff members attended a “Curriculum Institute” last week at the Goodwill Career Center and the network support office last week and “Differentiated Days earlier” this week at their respective schools. 

It culminates with the LEAD University Summit from today through Friday. There, the entire network will continue PD sessions and continue to work on team building and camaraderie in preparation for the coming school year. Staff members will be in sessions on Thursday hosted by Dr. Kate Kinsella on Academic Vocabulary. 

To close LEAD University on Friday, the network will be welcoming Mayor Megan Barry to Brick Church: A LEAD Public School, as staff members embark on a Day of Service to the city. 

Following the Mayor’s remarks, staff members will be volunteering at Second Harvest, the Ronald McDonald House, Nashville Food Project and Hands of Nashville on Friday.