CES principal travels to Harvard for conference

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Students at Cartersville Elementary should get ready — Principal Melissa Bates is  rejuvenated and ready to make the next school year the best one ever. 

Bates, who will be starting her fourth year as head of CES, was one of four Georgia educators to attend Leadership Evolving Vision/LEV at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston July 7-13. 

As an LEV Scholar, Bates had the chance to reflect on, stretch and strengthen her leadership skills while also examining the challenges she faces to raise student achievement and working with experts in school leadership to learn effective strategies for creating successful schools. 

“As a leader, it is important to have opportunities to learn, renew and become a more sophisticated leader of school innovation,” she said. “Harvard provided such an opportunity for me to grow as a leader.”

During her week in New England, Bates said she was able to “develop a customized improvement agenda for myself and CES” through daily sessions, facilitated group discussions and personal reflection.

Each day consisted of a morning meeting, several speakers and discussion groups on topics such as Leadership, Strategy and Performance, Building School Base Systems of Support for All Students, Cultural Leadership for Transforming School Organizations, Universal Design for Learning, Including Ourselves in the Improvement Equation and Supporting Beginning Teacher in Instruction.

“One of the most well-known Harvard speakers was Howard Garner,” Bates said.  “He has written many books and is known for being a pioneer in education. After each speaker, we analyzed ways to bring their ideas and thoughts back to our own school.” 

The principal said one of her favorite activities of the week was Project Adventure.

“This consisted of an entire day of team-building and formulating ways to bring a culture of teamwork to our own schools,” she said. “This activity challenged, stretched and moved leaders out of our comfort zones. Through a series of challenges, like climbing a tree and walking on a wire 40 feet in the air, I learned the importance of trust and teamwork. It truly takes everyone working together to accomplish a goal.” 

Bates said she learned several important lessons from the conference. 

“The demands of leadership are numberless, but identifying them explicitly and selecting specific targets for improvement are essential strategic steps toward becoming a better leader,” she said. “A central goal of the LEV institute was to help me grapple with these often-elusive tasks and provide input that will help me succeed in moving CES forward. The most important thing that I learned was to challenge myself and to build a culture where everyone takes ownership for every student in our system.”

The experience of being able to attend LEV was “much more than I expected and could have imagined,” Bates said.

“Simply put, it is a life-changing experience,” she said. “I never imagined that I would gain such insight and be stretched to gain such an abundance of knowledge. The Harvard professors were phenomenal. I have built lasting connections and relationships with veteran leaders who share similar challenges all around various parts of the world: United States, London, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Mexico, etc. I returned to Cartersville revitalized and prepared to tackle the challenges that all leaders face in education.”

Bates said the Professional Association of Georgia Educators sponsored her trip to the institute.

“I am so appreciative of the relationship that Cartersville City Schools has with PAGE,” she said. “They are an amazing organization who believes in supporting school leaders.”

To apply, Bates said she had to submit her resume, a recommendation from her superintendent, Dr. Marc Feuerbach, and a “very lengthy application to Harvard to include several written essay questions.”   

“The application process involved being an experienced leader who PAGE felt would meet the qualifications needed to be accepted as a Harvard scholar,” she said, noting she submitted her application in April. “I was beyond excited to receive an acceptance letter to Harvard.”

In his recommendation, Feuerbach said Bates’ leadership was “marked with trust.”

“She has developed a strong level of professional trust with her teachers,” he wrote. “Her students and staff alike understand that she truly cares for them, which cultivates a loving, supportive environment where students flourish. Parents recognize her dedication to student achievement and trust their children are receiving a well-rounded education that values and reaches every student. Mrs. Bates is an exemplary leader in our school system whose commitment to her students, staff and our community is second to none.” 

Bates thanked Feuerbach for “allowing me such an amazing opportunity” and said she was “proud to represent Cartersville City School System at such a prestigious learning institution.” 

“I am rejuvenated and look forward to sharing and implementing new ways to improve student achievement and culture within the school and community,” she said.