MAE leaders tout ‘The Leader in Me’ program for SOCSD

A board at Overstreet Elementary that highlights the 7 habits incorporated in the Leader in Me program (submitted photo)


A fairly new education initiative has received high praise from instructors, administrators and education advocates alike as its success has been seen in school districts across the country. 

The Leader in Me concept officially launched with one school in North Carolina in 2009 and was recently incorporated into the practices at the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, according to Lisa Wilson, a retired SOCSD educator and current east central region director for UniServ.

Wilson was joined on Tuesday by Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, in touring both Overstreet Elementary and Starkville High School, partly to get a better understanding of the impact being made on students by the program. 

Helmick said at this time every year, the president of the MAE does a tour of schools and one of the concentrations focused on tracking the success of programs like The Leader in Me. 

“We have seen that program be successful in many schools throughout the state,” Helmick said. “It has improved discipline and improved attendance.” 

Helmick then specifically cited Overstreet Principal Cynthia Milons, who has seen the program boost attendance for the school into the 95-96 percent range since the district launched its incarnation of the program in September 2016. 

“She is hitting for (100 percent attendance) and has goals set based on The Leader In Me program,” Helmick said. 

In addition to embracing the concept, the school district in 2017 also offered “Parent University,” a series of lunch and learn sessions with parents aimed at reinforcing the principals of The Leader in Me program. 

Administrators initially rolled out the concept across the district for grades k-8, but has since expanded offerings to high school students. 

The program itself is based off of the self-help book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” written by Stephen Covey. 

According to the Leader In Guide parent guide, the steps, or “Habits” are as follows: (1) Be Proactive, (2) Begin With the End in Mind, (3) Put First Things First, (4) Think Win-Win (5) Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood, (6) Synergize (7) Sharpen the Saw. 

Defined as a “whole-school transformation model” by FranklinCovey, the concept was developed by educators with the goal of empowering students with leadership and life skills needed to be successful in the 21st Century. That includes concepts like eye contact, hand shaking and interpersonal engagement, among other teachings. 

“In a classroom you walk in, and there will probably be a greeter coming to the door, so they learn how to shake your hand, they learn how to speak to adults, they learn how to show the adults around,” Helmick commented. 

As an example, Helmick commented on one school she recently visited that had kindergarten students who were able to take teachers and visitors on a tour of the school. 

At the local level, the program was developed with inspiration from schools on the Gulf Coast. 

“Having been in the district, this is the third year the entire district has been in the program,” Wilson said. “I think (former Assistant Superintendent Toriano Holloway) got into this. I know they visited several schools on the coast, each school had representatives that were on the team and they came back.” 

Holloway left the school district in 2017 to become the superintendent of the Quitman School District. 

One of the concerns this program hopes to also address is to help students who traditionally would “fall through the cracks,” and miss out on leadership opportunities as they relate to traditional education practices in the past. 

“This program does that very thing and it gives students who would not have that opportunity a long time ago or even in some other schools today,” Helmick said. “It includes every student, every student will have an opportunity to be the line leader, to be the greeter, to be the one in charge of taking up papers.” 

Another example provided by the longtime educator came when she said she remembered a student in kindergarten who did not have a strong support network at home, who had mostly been left on her own. 

“She could barely speak, not because she couldn’t, she just did not speak,” Helmick said. “Within a month, the teacher had her leading the class because it gave her the confidence to stand up.” 
Above all else in regards to the program, Helmick said it changes the way teachers and students interact, which has made all of the difference in her view. 

“What we missed years ago, is students learn from students, kids learn from kids,” she said. “More classrooms are going toward the teacher as the facilitator of learning rather than the director. The students are learning from the students and this goes all the way through high school.”

To learn more about The Leader in Me program, visit