Dr. Bob Fortenberry, former superintendent in Jackson, MS, stated, “There is nothing so immoral, and possibly illegal, as supporting an adult at the expense of a child.” I heard his speech in 1980 and never forgot his passion. He went on to explain that he was hired as superintendent to improve the educational outcomes for all students, not to guarantee employment for adults or adhere to community beliefs about the abilities of some students. Under his leadership, the district blossomed, but he was constantly challenged for his beliefs in students who were mostly poor and minority. Bob Fortenberry was a role model for taking a strong position for students, even though it placed his job in peril.
As a 27-year-old principal with two years of experience, I vowed to always place the welfare of students above that of adults, including myself. In order to honor my vow, I had to clearly establish, in writing, my system of beliefs and values. Reading what I had written over and over again to be sure my decision was not reckless or pure folly helped me to develop the “non-negotiables” that would serve as the basis of my decision-making, as well as my responses in job interviews.
No, I was not born to be a courageous leader; I developed the mindset and the belief, based on what I believed and the attributes I respected in great leaders. Becoming a courageous leader takes time and many experiences, some positive and others not. The journey is worth it. Courageous leaders help make others, adults and children, better through consistent actions based on beliefs and values, and being known for someone who is predictable in dealing with issues regardless of those involved.