2017-06-21 / School News

Jenkins County School System – building leadership capacity

By Julie Chance


From left, Superintendent Tara Cooper, JCES Principal Randy Dailey and JCMS/JCHS Principal Rob Gray are shown working on system and school plans for 2017 - 2018. 
(Photos contributed) From left, Superintendent Tara Cooper, JCES Principal Randy Dailey and JCMS/JCHS Principal Rob Gray are shown working on system and school plans for 2017 - 2018. (Photos contributed) Sustaining organizational change is a challenge that is not for the faint of heart. Even effective managerial leaders have met their match when assigned the responsibility to change the mission, culture, or operations of an ongoing organization. With the current state of public education at the state and national levels, making the most of what is already available is the number one priority for most Georgia school systems. This means Superintendents are tasked with addressing the needs of each student with fewer resources than ever before. Embracing school improvement or organizational change efforts is a constant responsibility of school and system leaders. Now more than ever, dwindling resources require these efforts to be collaborative and strategically designed.


The Jenkins County School System Leadership Team is shown planning strategic events for the 2017-2018 school year. The Jenkins County School System Leadership Team is shown planning strategic events for the 2017-2018 school year. Getting as many people involved in making the organization’s mission a reality is complicated, yet is a key component toward making this type of organizational change happen. The Jenkins County School System began embedding the system mission into everything much like a business uses the marketing tool of branding their merchandise; think McDonald’s golden arches and Coca-Cola’s red and white can. The mission drives the decision-making process of the organization and Superintendent Tara Cooper has become this change leader within the Jenkins County School System because of her demonstration of “walking the talk”.

Besides talking often about the school system’s mission, our system’s change leader, Superintendent Cooper, had to learn to be comfortable with addressing concerns and anxieties and honestly discussing issues that are conflictual. This is one of the most important characteristics of a change leader; learning how to move forward after dealing with negative stakeholders. Learning to constantly work toward getting more people involved in the mission of the school system is vital to accomplishing the system’s mission of Educating Students for College and Careers.

Members of the organization began talking about the need for change, spreading the understanding of what changes were needed, and discussing why these changes were important. The need to “improve instruction and increase learning without making excuses” became an unofficial anthem for the school system. No more making excuses because the system was small, poor, and rural. The new focus was on meeting the needs of teachers and students to remove the mountainous barriers of poverty and economic distress, but the immediate question was how this could be done. Money was tight, to say the least, so the change problem became overcoming a shortage of resources to provide needed support to improve the rigor and quality of instruction.

Like many neighboring systems, the Jenkins County School System and student academic achievement suffered. With funds being cut at the federal, state, and local levels, professional learning and support resources began to dry up quickly. All stakeholders suffered from this negative turn. Students were unmotivated, teachers were tired and discouraged, and parents were discontent. A solution had to be found and soon, before an entire generation of students was left without adequate preparation for their lives after graduating from high school or worse after they dropped out of school.

Effective change leaders inspire intrinsic motivation as a key to the development and sustainment of organizational change. Fulfilling her role as change leader for the past five years, Superintendent Cooper has facilitated this much needed organizational change within the Jenkins County School System. his process also validated the need for consistent, informed leadership as an essential component of moving our school system forward.

Superintendent Cooper, a true change leader, implemented a model of transformational leadership that would provide the support personnel needed to build capacity for rigorous, quality instruction which was exactly what all stakeholders wanted.

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