Curriculum Committee hears about positive impact of Seven Habits program

Posted: Feb. 11, 2013 11:12 pm Updated: Feb. 26, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Seven Habits leadership curriculum being used in 28 Adams County schools continues to produce good results.

George Meyer, a former Quincy school superintendent who played a key role in launching the curriculum in Quincy schools, provided an update to the Quincy School Board's Curriculum Committee on Monday. He said it is helping to improve test scores and causing fewer disciplinary referrals in schools where the curriculum is taken to heart.

The initiative teaches students the "Seven Habits" espoused by the late author Stephen Covey, who developed a series of guidelines for leadership and decision-making. The program was introduced in Quincy's Dewey Elementary School in 2005 on a trial basis largely through the efforts of Meyer, who initially had Quincy University education students teach the curriculum. It was expanded and refined the next year to include Washington School and was later launched for all interested Adams County schools through the Academic Success Initiative, sponsored primarily by local school districts and the United Way of Adams County.

Meyer said the program has been particularly effective in schools that have attempted to achieve "Lighthouse" status by meeting 146 criteria established by Franklin Covey Inc., a Utah-based professional services company.

Only Blessed Sacrament Elementary School has actually achieved Lighthouse status -- enabling it to became the first Catholic school in the nation and the first school in Illinois to receive that honor. However, Meyer said Washington Elementary School, Central Elementary School in Camp Point and Dewey Elementary School also are "worthy" of Lighthouse consideration.

Meyer said a review of academic performance shows those four schools have scored an average of 7.9 percentage points higher on reading tests and 8.6 percentage points higher on math tests than non-Lighthouse schools in the county.

Meyer told the committee the difference is the leadership component of the program, which is often referred to as the "eighth habit."

"The more leadership that you give to the students, the more responsibility they have for their own lives and the more involved they get in what they're doing academically, and they do better," Meyer said.

Meyer said the initiative also is having good results at Quincy Junior High School, where it was implemented for the first time in August. Meyer said parent surveys in November 2011 (before the Seven Habits were adopted) and in November 2012 (three months after implementation) show parents are seeing higher levels of self-esteem in their children. The most recent survey also showed parents are happier with the school, with 53.6 percent saying they would recommend QJHS to others, up from just 28.6 percent a year earlier.

Meyer said an effort will be made in the near future to "rejuvenate" the Seven Habits program at Baldwin Intermediate School, thanks to anonymous donations by supporters of the Seven Habits curriculum. He said the program at Baldwin has taken a back seat in recent years to a PBIS initiative that also tries to promote good decision-making by students.

Meyer also noted that the Seven Habits curriculum continues to get strong financial support from the community as well as the United Way -- its chief sponsor. He said about $488,000 has been raised since 2008 to support the Seven Habits. The United Way provided $115,000 of that, with the rest coming from private donations and grants.

Financial support of that magnitude "has been pretty amazing," Christie Dickens, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said.

Cheryl Waterman, executive director of the United Way of Adams County, said the United Way's portion has been used to keep the program going strong.

"We're leveraging all that money, and I think that's the strength of that project," she said. "It's catching on, and we have a diversity of funders involved in it now."

Waterman also noted that the curriculum is being adopted by parents who learn the Seven Habits from their children and are incorporating the leadership skills into their own lives.

"That definitely resonates with employers and the stakeholders that we have," she said.

Board member Jeff Mays applauded the United Way "for being a steady investor" in the Seven Habits curriculum.

"I hope the results meet the expectations of your funders, because that's the only way this program is going to continue to go," he told Waterman.

The Seven Habits report was part of a series of updates the committee heard Monday on various curriculum initiatives under way in the district.