Former Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Rose, of Fulton Co Schools (GA) on Leadership, Innovation and the Future
Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” episode #24 this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will also be available on YouTube.
Our very special guest today, Dr. Jeff Rose, is the founder of Leading Ed Solutions[i], a community of school superintendents and leaders providing solutions, strategy and support so that no one has to lead alone. His successful podcast, Leading Education[ii] focuses on innovative conversations surrounding the most important topics that our modern schools face that are relevant to anyone who wants to lead in education and beyond. The topics he tackles are applicable to any leadership position, providing the most up to date ideas and strategies around these enormous concepts that require new ways of thinking for improvement and change.
Jeff has a proven track record of innovation and an unrelenting focus on student achievement. He’s the former Superintendent of Fulton County Schools (which is Atlanta, Georgia’s 4th largest school district) responsible for the leadership, administration and management of over 96,000 students, 105 schools, 14,000 employees and a $1.1 billion general fund budget. During his 23 years in education, he has served as a classroom teacher, principal and a director of school improvement.
Welcome Jeff. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today to share what you are doing to support educational leadership.
Jeff, I love your work and your podcast inspired me to get moving on mine over the summer. I want to dive into some questions to hear your perspective on a few of the topics that I thought were the most relevant in our schools and communities today.
Q1: I’ve heard you describe education as “the perfect mess” because when you are working, you will have challenges, and everyone has an opinion about these challenges. I’ve also heard this as it relates to business. When you are taking action, things will go wrong and it can all feel like a mess. When you are doing nothing, you won’t have problems to solve, but also won’t have any impact for change. What led you to launch your company, Leading Ed solutions and tackle some of the most challenging problems education has seen in the past few decades to impact change and when did you first think about starting this idea?
Q2: There are so many important concepts that you speak about—I love hearing your point of view— but one concept stuck out to me from the earlier episodes when you spoke about how lonely leadership is, when you first felt being lonely at the top and how you got used to this feeling. Unless someone is walking in the shoes of a school superintendent, administrator, or District leader, (or even equate this to those who lead in the corporate world) I know it could be easy to make up what others think your job entails and say things like “Oh, it must be nice….with their xyz assumption.” Hearing your perspective on what leadership is like for those who are given this responsibility is important for anyone who must learn to lead themselves. (We all have heard that to be a good leader is to be a good follower).[iii] Was this why you launched your podcast to give more insight to bridge this gap that exists between school leadership, schools and the community and shed some light with what this leadership role really entails?
Q3: You mention that one of the biggest concerns you hear from parents and the community is the rise in student anxiety these days (episode 4)[iv] and I’m seeing it here in my local community in Chandler, Arizona, USA where this time last year we hit 31child/teen suicides in 15 months.[v] This issue is a huge concern and goes on past the pressure to perform academically in the K-12 system to higher education. (I just heard another podcast by Jay Shetty where he interviewed Laurie Santos[vi] who created the most popular course at Yale to combat this issue when she saw how stressed her students were to perform academically at the beginning of their University career.) Your interview with David Smith and Cathy Murphy from The Summit Counselling Center[vii] really opened my eyes to the fact that we do need to involve the community to bring more awareness and discussion around mental health issues for today’s students.
What do you think is a good call to action for parents to begin this dialogue to support their child’s mental health in addition to their own?
What about our schools? It still feels like this is a topic is not easy for some people to speak openly about. When I first heard of this rise in suicides in my area I had posters created (inspired by a teen in one of my presentations, who was shocked at the statistics in the US compared to Canada—this was a HS student in Toronto—he stood up and said “how is it that we know what to do when we are on fire—we stop, drop and roll, but we don’t know what to do when someone is struggling mentally or emotionally—at all?” The whole room full of District leaders gasped at his observation.)[viii] So we created posters with a call to action for how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a young person struggling with anxiety, and what number to call if they need additional help—but I still felt the awkwardness around the topic as if schools would be happy to not talk about it at all. How can we change this?
How do you see community and faith-based organizations forming stronger relationships with our schools? I know you cover this extensively with a 2-part episode,[ix] but what would be some first steps for a successful school/community partnership?
Q4: You covered the widely discussed topic of School Safety and Social Media on episode 19[x] from the end of August. I have always felt that social media and the advancements of technology are where all of the problems begin for our students—because we just didn’t have these problems when we were growing up because we didn’t have the internet—and these challenges create stress for our teachers and parents and make me question about should I or shouldn’t I buy a phone for my kids? Then I listened to this episode and it made me shift my thinking when I heard your guest from www.bark.us talk about their company’s technology and how they have created an algorithm that has avoided 16 credible school shooting threats. I have heard of similar alerts with credit monitoring, but never thought about this technology moving into the schools. Can you share how you came across this technology and how you see this system supporting our schools in the future? How can we shift people’s perspective to show that technology can solve some of these problems we are seeing with social media, rather than just be the cause of them?
Q5: What would be some parting thoughts with your experience in the past few decades leading in education to impact long-lasting and sustainable change in today’s schools? What is your vision for Leading Ed Solutions?
Jeff is holding an event for Superintendents in Scottsdale, AZ next month. Here are more details. https://www.leadingedsolutions.com/event-az If anyone is interested in learning more, please contact him directly firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more here https://vimeo.com/334815600
Thank you so much for your time, thoughts and ideas today Jeff and for being so accessible for this conversation. If there are school superintendents listening, what criteria are you looking for to join your inner circle? If anyone is interested in contacting you, is the best way through your website leadingedsolutions.com? They can also find you on LinkedIn and @DrJeffRose on Twitter. Thank you.
[ii] Leading Education with Jeff Rose Podcast on iTunes https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/leading-education-with-jeff-rose/id1456969336
[iii] Research: To be a good leader, start by being a good follower by Kim Peters August 6, 2018 https://hbr.org/2018/08/research-to-be-a-good-leader-start-by-being-a-good-follower