Voices in Education Podcast

Episode 24: The Secret to Leading Your School to Success

September 11, 2023 Securly Season 3 Episode 24
Voices in Education Podcast
Episode 24: The Secret to Leading Your School to Success
Show Notes Transcript

For many, working in education is primarily a role of passion: a love for helping to provide a better start in life for the next generations of young people outweighs all else. But that doesn’t mean education cannot also be a prosperous and long-term career – one where a true difference can be made. From school leadership to superintendency, the possibilities are many.

There is, however, a significant difference between being in a leadership role and actually being a leader – something Superintendent Millard House has prided himself on throughout his illustrious career within education. Now in his third superintendency, Millard’s plentiful experience paints quite the picture of an ever-evolving landscape and how aspiring leaders may look to navigate that space.

Millard joins the Voices in Education podcast to discuss the secrets to successful leadership, how data and strategy are integral to his approach when it comes to student and staff wellness at Prince George's County Public Schools, and how others could and should proceed if they want to make a meaningful difference to the education sector as a whole.

Voices in Education is powered by Securly

Securly is your school’s all-in-one solution for student safety, wellness, and engagement. Securly's 2023 State of Student Wellness Report is a free-to-download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness. You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately better support the students who need your help the most.

Download your free copy of this illuminating special report today.

Adam Smith: 00:02 You're listening to the Voices in Education podcast, powered by Securly. In our third season of the podcast, we're fine-tuning our focus and shining a spotlight where we believe it's needed most, on those who've dedicated their careers and lives to education. Whether inside or outside of the classroom, we know that students need to feel seen, safe, and supported to perform at their best. But these aren't just the needs of students. They are basic human needs that apply to our educators, administrators, and school and mental health professionals as well.

00:37 There's a saying that you can't pour from an empty cup. Well, you're invited to fill your cup here with us. I'm Adam Smith, a former teacher, mental health advocate, and your host of the Voices in Education podcast. It's my great honor and pleasure to get to sit down with educators just like you to discuss why they chose a career in education and how they stay the course in the face of challenges. In hearing their stories, I hope you'll come away feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reconnected to your own reasons for becoming an educator. Let's hear from the voices in education.

01:15 Hello and welcome to another episode of the Voices in Education podcast. I'm Adam Smith, your host for this brand new season of Voices in Education, and I can't wait to share these inspiring conversations with you all. But before I get into it, I want to make sure that you don't miss out on a single episode. Be sure to like, follow, and subscribe to Voices in Education on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts from.

01:40 Today, I am joined by Millard House. For our US listeners, especially those in Houston and Maryland, Millard may be very familiar indeed, but for anyone who is unfamiliar, Millard worked for Houston Independent School District as their superintendent after an illustrious career all across the education sector and is now the superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools. With humble beginnings as a substitute teacher holding down four jobs, Millard worked his way to becoming the region's youngest principal at the age of 26. And in that role, he was awarded principal of the year. After that, he branched out, started his own school, and there he held roles of assistant and deputy superintendent before finally becoming superintendent. And now for a third time, Millard is in his superintendency.

02:27 So Millard, thank you so much, first of all, for finding the time to join us on Voices in Education. How are you today, and how are you finding kicking off at Prince George's County?

Millard House: 02:38 Well, Adam, first of all, thank you for having me. It's great to be here both with you and the members of the podcast community. We've made the transition in the last 10 to 12 days to the state of Maryland, so the 1,500-mile commute has been a very positive one. Great to have even my family here. They just arrived a little bit behind me, about three weeks behind me.

Adam Smith: 03:05 Okay.

Millard House: 03:06 But we're ready to kick it off and ready to get this started again. This is my third superintendency in my 20, going on 28 years in this work, and I'm just as enthused as I was from the day I got started in public education.

Adam Smith: 03:24 That's wonderful to hear. And also just speaking as somebody from the UK, a 1,500-mile commute, was it 1,500 you said?

Millard House: 03:32 About 14 and some change? Yes.

Adam Smith: 03:34 Yeah. I mean, that feels like a considerable commute for me. But no, I'm pleased it's gone well. I'm pleased that your family have managed to join you as well. And yeah, I mean, it's an incredible journey and I think our listeners will just be amazed to hear kind of the story of how you got to where you are. And again, the fact, yeah, as you say, you're in your third superintendency now and just what that includes and what that involves and what made you make those choices. But we'll get into all that as we go. I don't want to rush ahead too far.

04:05 So I think I'd love to know, and our listeners would too, on a day-to-day basis, what your role involves and I guess what you are looking forward to doing for our young people and students. So if you could give us a little bit of, I guess, insight into the day-to-day, that would be great.

Millard House: 04:22 So the role, of course, involves working closely with a board of education. So boards of education's in different states and the US, of course, include anywhere between 7, 9, 11, in my board here in Prince George's County is actually 14 board members. So working closely with your bosses essentially to ensure that they are governing, focused on the governance, governance of the work, and that I am focused on the day-to-day operation, setting the stage for what our strategy will be to ensure that students essentially are college and career ready.

05:04 So I think the theory of action is something that I've always believed in, which is in my eyes, with an opportunity like this and a superintendency in leadership, it's important that you bring on talented individuals that can help move the dial. So I was fortunate to inherit some very talented individuals, but I was also very fortunate to bring on some very talented individuals in the roles that I've been in and currently in the role that I'm in.

05:37 So I'm excited about listening and learning over the course of the first 90 days because that's what a good leader does. They don't just dictate, they don't just lead from day one, they listen. So I'll be going on a listening tour, listening to where some of the issues are, looking at data, and then post 90 days we'll be executing and building upon a strategic plan that's already in place.

06:06 So we're excited about what that day-to-day means. Of course, the day-to-day means finance, operations, real estate. It means teaching and learning. It means IT. So everything under the sun that can support the 131,000 students that are in my school district.

Adam Smith: 06:26 And what a huge number to be responsible for. And as you say, to kind of really look ahead and think, how can you make a meaningful difference? You said about as a leader, it's important to listen and to bring in those team members that help to build that team.

06:42 I had a conversation with April Grace. She was the superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools, and she was telling me exactly the same thing. We were talking how important it is to not only create a community for the students, but actually to create a community that works. You work to each other's weaknesses and strengths. You find the people that can fill all of the necessary gaps. And it's important as both a tool to help the students, but also as something for the students to aspire to, to see how people work together, how people compliment each other's strengths and help each other up. So yeah, I look forward to seeing how that goes for you in these early stages and as you move forward.

07:23 And obviously, this isn't your first rodeo. So what would some of your personal highlights be of your superintendencies in the past? What kind of things really stand out to you as the top moments or the key learning moments for you?

Millard House: 07:39 So each superintendency has had different highlights. As I look at my first in Clarksville, Montgomery County School District in Tennessee, I was very proud of the innovation work that we did. We were one of the first school districts pre-pandemic that developed Grow Your Own programs where we were taking not only graduating seniors, but also individuals that worked for the school district and support personnel, in the support personnel ranks. So those may have been bus drivers, they may have been teacher assistants, they may have been individuals that worked in our maintenance department, and we took them through a three-year bachelor's degree program to be effective teachers.

08:24 So that program ended up growing into several other school districts across the state. The state provided, eventually started providing grants, and we saw our teacher vacancies go down significantly because of the Grow Your Own efforts, homegrown Grow Your Own efforts.

08:42 I think in my last superintendency in the Houston Independent School District, when I arrived in 2021, there were 50 schools that were categorized on the D and the F, D or F list. Of course, an A is a very promising situation where students have performed at a very high level, a D or F speaks for itself. There were 50 D and F schools. In a very short period of time, after a year, we removed 40 of the 50 schools from the D and F list. So we were excited about those efforts. And we're looking forward to similar results, similar efforts because there are some opportunities in the Prince George's County Public School system as well to really work towards and have a major win that we'll be proud of eventually as well.

Adam Smith: 09:36 No, and I think the numbers speak for themselves as you referenced there, but I think what is so key is putting in that time, the dedication and, as you say, growing people's careers, skillsets, all those things. It's everything that we hope to teach our students. And again, to be able to see that from the top down, I think it's great from a role model perspective and it just shows as well when you're in those areas that are struggling, that maybe are less well off or kind of needing that extra support to be able to show you that change can happen, that you don't need to just give up and accept your lot in life. You can excel, you can push forward, you can make meaningful change.

10:20 And it's a huge part of why Securly do what Securly does as well. We just really believe that everybody should have the same opportunities no matter their funding, no matter their resource level, no matter where they're based. We want to be able to provide staff and students with the best opportunities. And it's lovely to hear the same thing from your side as well.

10:40 Now, one of the key focal topics really on Voices in Education is looking at an educator's why, their reason for doing what they do, why do they get up in the morning, why do they keep getting up and doing the hard work, if you like, for our students and things. And for you, I'd like to go back to the beginning because as I referenced in your introduction, you began life as a substitute teacher. I believe your parents were also educators, so it had been within your household and family from a young age. And the journey that led you from there to where you are today I think is such a fascinating one because there was a lot of hurdles for you to overcome. You've mentioned a couple there, but even in your early career there were things that you had to work with and find ways to sort of mold yourself, mold your environment and your approach to those things.

11:33 I'd just love to talk about that because so many of our listeners are in education, perhaps have their own struggles, their own hurdles, and it's just so important to see that you can overcome these things and achieve incredible success both from a career perspective but also within the schools and districts. So if you wouldn't mind, I'd love for you to go back to that kind of childhood and yeah, tell us how you got to where you are.

Millard House: 11:56 So as you think about my why, and it started with having two parents that were teachers, that were in public education. My father was a history teacher and eventually desegregated schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Tulsa Public Schools. So he has a rich history, 30-year history in the district. My mother, and both of them are passed on, but my mother was a first grade teacher for 16 years before she became a counselor. But during that 16-year stretch where she was a first grade teacher is a timeframe that I was born. And she recognized early that there were some learning differences with her young son that were different than my older sister. My sister was a student, a very studious student where things came to her easy. She was a hard worker as well.

12:50 I was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia. I also had a speech impediment. But the difference between my story and many stories that are out there is that my mother was able to identify early, in kindergarten and first grade that something was going on in terms of why I was not able to grasp some of the reading concepts that many kids should be grasping. And with that, she provided quite a bit of assistance for me. I went to a reading clinic at a local university every Saturday for probably five or six years that was specifically designed for kids that had learning differences like mine. On top of that, I received lots of support at the school to support my learning differences as well.

13:40 So over the course of my elementary years and the beginning of my middle school years, I had this support system behind me that would not allow me to not be successful. So as I reflect back on the support and assistance that I was provided, Adam, it defined my why. So I eventually went to college and got a degree in physical education, exercise physiology, and was determining what direction I was going to go with. Was I going to teach? Was I going to go to try to get into physical therapy school? And I tried the physical therapy route and didn't get in.

14:20 At that point, I started substitute teaching. I was also a barber in a barbershop. I was a referee, and I was a head coach of a high school girls basketball team. So over the course of that year, I learned real quick during my substitute teaching, coaching and barbering, quite frankly, because I cut a lot children's hair, had conversations with children in the barber chair, I decided that that was the route for me because I felt like I could influence the lives of students in the manner that I was influenced by my parents, by the educators in my life.

14:59 So that experience during my first couple of years after college, that experience during my elementary and middle school years truly defined my why. I know that if I can do it with the right supports, those kind of same supports can be provided for any students that may have needs and I can be the driving factor behind ensuring that those needs are in place.

15:21 So my why is a why that I think can be defined by several of the students that are out there that have similar stories, several other students that want to move on and make a difference.

Securly: 15:32 The Voices in Education podcast is brought to you by Securly. Since 2013, Securly's sole mission has been to support student safety and wellness. With more than 15,000 schools worldwide already choosing to bring Securly into their school communities, we are creating a clearer picture of what young people are struggling with each and every day. With this data, we are able to more effectively target and implement support, and we want to share that information with as many educators like you as possible. The 2023 State of Student Wellness report is a free-to-download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness. You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately better support the students who need your help the most. Download your free copy of this illuminating special report by visiting https://hs.securly.com/report, that's https://hs.securly.com/report, today.

Adam Smith: 16:34 What I really love about your story is I think the comment you made was you weren't allowed not to succeed. You had different support in place that you could go to, say your mother was obviously very familiar with children and how they learn, obviously with your eldest sister and so on, finding that there was something not the same and that doesn't mean that you cannot achieve the same level and you're a living, breathing proof of that, that those sort of things don't have to put the brakes on. You can absolutely still shoot for the stars.

17:09 And what is so important in this day and age is to understand that every single student can make it, but you do have to support the whole student. You can't just think that one size fits all. And you mentioned actually in your intro about what you're looking at in these 90 days, that you're going to be looking a lot at data. And I think again, probably quite a new thing is looking at data not just for how students are achieving, but how are they on a wellness level, how are they in different subjects and areas, and what do all of these statistics, what does all of this data say about that individual student and how can we give them support? And it's so lovely to hear that even now, maybe sort of 20 years on, we are so far advanced even from where you were then. And it's just great to see and I think really kind of inspiring to think that anyone can be anything now as long as that care, that due care is put in place.

18:14 What happened next for you? So after you've had this kind of epiphany in your four different jobs, which by the way, I've got to give you some kudos for holding down four jobs at the same time, where did you go from there?

Millard House: 18:27 I started teaching and dove into physical education, but I had a love of teaching reading. So I worked with some of the kindergarten teachers even as a physical education teacher and would help out even during my planning period, lunch period in reading groups. So I've always had this affinity of teaching reading.

18:47 So I taught physical education for three years, supporting young children in a very high-need school that had a population of about 90% poverty in a Title I school, and I assumed different leadership opportunities in the school. And lo and behold, after three years of teaching, I received a call from administrators that were paying attention to become the principal at the age of 26 years old at the next to lowest performing school in the state. And this was a school where 100% of the children qualified for free lunch, which means, of course, there was a very meager and poor population at the school.

Adam Smith: 19:38 Yeah.

Millard House: 19:38 But even with that, we moved on after five years of great professional development, belief, confidence to move from the next to lowest performing school in the state to outperforming 85% of the Title I schools in the state.

Adam Smith: 19:54 Amazing.

Millard House: 19:58 So there was a lot of value-added growth over that course of time, had great teachers, great support. I moved on from there and started my own school and ran it for about four years from scratch in that same neighborhood. It was a middle school. I was very enthused about those times. The middle school moved on to be one of the most sought after middle schools in the city.

20:23 I was afforded the opportunity to become an assistant superintendent after that and then associate superintendent. And then I was the number two in the district, the deputy superintendent in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Adam Smith: 20:34 Yeah.

Millard House: 20:34 So since that time, I've had a couple other different roles. I was a chief operating officer in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in Charlotte, North Carolina. And after that, I moved right into my first superintendency. So it's been quite the journey, but it's truly felt natural over the course of time. I love to lead, and I have loved the opportunity to build capacity in others along the way.

Adam Smith: 21:01 I've got to ask because I'm thinking back to when I was 26 years old, and I cannot imagine being given such a enormous amount of responsibility at that age. And I know it's not hugely uncommon within the education sector for there to be climbing, especially when, as you say, you've got such great numbers behind you and such great progress and development of those schools that needed that support.

21:27 But when you were 26 and you're given this opportunity, was there ever any hesitation? Did you feel for a minute maybe that wasn't the role for you because you hear a lot about imposter syndrome, people feeling like they shouldn't be in the roles that they're in, but did you have any of that yourself?

Millard House: 21:45 Adam, I've never hesitated. And I think my leadership journey started early on. It started on the soccer, as we call it in America, but football as we call it in many other countries, where I was always at that center fielder. I was the leader on the team. Became a very accomplished baseball and basketball player. But was always put in leadership roles in athletics. And on the athletic field, you don't have the opportunity to be an imposter. You're either leading your team to wins or you're leading your team to losses. And I've never been on a losing team.

22:25 So taking that confidence into the education industry is what I did. I felt like I needed to figure out how to take a team of teachers, to put together a game plan to win. And it takes strategy. It's not much different than being on a football field, a soccer field, [inaudible 00:22:46]. It's not much different. It's just making sure the strategy is in place.

22:51 So I have never felt out of place as a leader regardless of my age. I took that confidence and those leadership tenets that I practiced as an athlete and I've always utilized them to help me move forward.

Adam Smith: 23:05 I think as well, if I reflect on my time as a student in education, often my sort of preferred teachers or my favorite teachers were those that were a bit younger, that could see how the world was changing, to see how students were evolving in how they preferred to learn or how to be communicated with.

23:23 And again, you've given such great advice to anyone out there who is aspiring to climb the ladder, or if they've been given these opportunities but are doubting themselves, I think you've got such that no hesitation, be the leader, go and find it, but I think, as you say, putting strategy in place. It's not flying by the seat of your pants. It's not improvising. It is planned out. And again, we go back, we mentioned again, data. Find the data, find what isn't working, find what is, figure out how to build a team around that, and create the most full support network that you can for those schools to have.

Millard House: 24:00 Absolutely.

Adam Smith: 24:01 So if there are any listeners out there who are potentially going for these kinds of roles or they have aspirations to be leaders of schools or districts or whatever, what kind of advice would you give them in their current roles? How do you make your mark so that people notice you, so that you start to gain that respect and that trust that is required to make it to a superintendency or a principal or any of those roles?

Millard House: 24:28 Yeah. So I want to say first of all, don't expect to just be in the role. It's important that the role and getting to these roles are lead-ups. Can you show some kind of results in your life, whether it be as a former athlete, whether as a coach, whether it's an afterschool tutor? I used to, as a teacher, be able to show that the kids that I was tutoring afterschool we're moving at faster rates than most of the kids in my school. That was a leadership opportunity to have a data point. And having data points like that helped me to get my first principalship.

25:11 I think from there, it's important that you be a leader that listens. It's so important that when you listen, it means not just listening to people but listening to data as well, understanding what data points are, how to utilize those data points to drive instruction also.

25:31 I think it's also, in the third and last point that I'll make is you have to be a leader of people. People have to want to work for you. People have to yearn to get your feedback and to have their capacity built. And that's a very important skill because I've been very lucky to have people that want to come work with me and you notice I didn't say come work for me.

Adam Smith: 25:56 Yeah.

Millard House: 25:57 I always see myself as a team player and that they are on my team and we're working together to accomplish a goal of winning on that team, which is ensuring that kids are performing at high levels.

Adam Smith: 26:10 I think the mentality you mentioned earlier of you said you've never been on a losing team, and I think actually it's so important to always find, even if they are small wins, find them, celebrate them, learn from them, and then continue to grow them. It's so much about where you focus.

26:27 I've had quite a few conversations on this podcast where we talk about there are so many areas of education that really could be lifted up or improved for staff and students alike. And obviously, due to the state of the modern media, they often focus on those negatives, which is a shame because there are so many positive things that we could be focusing on. Which again, part of the reason we have this podcast because we want to be able to highlight the positives. We want to be able to encourage and inspire our listeners and educators out there to realize we're all doing a great job and actually there's so many things worth cheering about. And when you are winning, when you find those things and you find that data that is proving crucial, to be able to act on that, as you say, to not just steer randomly, but to really hone in on those areas.

27:16 Again, a huge thing that Securly are a proponent of, we like to find student wellness data. What are students searching for? What are they struggling with? How can we address individual student needs rather than just students en masse? And with student mental health now being such a big topic, it's so key to actually use this data, not just guesswork.

27:38 And that, to be honest, that leads me really nicely into, I like to wrap up all of our podcasts with three questions for our guests just to give our listeners some advice, some tips, some food for thought. So while we're speaking about student wellness, I'd like to ask in your opinion, and from what you've seen in your many different roles, what do you think is the biggest challenge that educators face when it comes to supporting their students' wellness?

Millard House: 28:05 I think the biggest challenge is that educators face is really the societal factors that come into the school. If you go back to the '70s and '80s when I grew up in school, the educational system was about just that. It was educating students, getting them to school on time, and making sure that you teach them particular elements around a curriculum to ensure that they accomplish those things.

28:39 Students are coming to school on a daily basis with a litany of different societal issues, whether it be mental health, whether it be food insecurities. So society brings a completely different level of challenge than it did 20, 30 years ago, and our educators are having to endure that. So it's not only waking up on a daily basis and preparing a lesson plan to teach children, but it's preparing a lesson plan for life, mental health, and all the different supports that have to be in place before you can even focus on what it is to educate a child around curriculum.

29:23 So I think those are some of the major challenges that are different than what we saw several years ago. But I do think there's a window of opportunity, an opportunity for us to learn how to support our students' mental health and social and emotional well-being of our students. And I think there's some great examples out there that we have to take heed to and pay attention to.

Adam Smith: 29:49 So many of our listeners are in education and are teachers who may well be struggling with similar things to what you just referenced or feeling lost and burnout. So I'd ask, is there one thing you'd like to say to anyone that is feeling that way right now or any advice that you can give to anyone who's facing that struggle right now?

Millard House: 30:07 It's important to take time to fill your own cup and understanding when your cup needs to be filled, whether that's having a support group, whether that's taking time to ensure that your mental wellness or your wellness is in a place where you can support children.

30:31 The job of a teacher or an administrator is one of the most difficult responsibilities that one can have, quite frankly, because we are creating what the future should look like in our world.

Adam Smith: 30:44 Okay, last question then. So we've talked about some of the challenges that are out there in education right now, but as I say, we like to focus on the good work that's going on. So what's giving you hope about the future of education?

Millard House: 30:57 What's giving me hope is the resilience that we're seeing from our educator population. We just came through a worldwide pandemic and we have teachers, school districts that are showing examples of resilience that we've never seen before. We have so many kids and educators that suffered loss during the pandemic, and what shows me hope is the willful support that we're providing to our families, the growth and development that we're seeing with our students due to the learning loss of the pandemic.

31:34 We're seeing a mankind that is really reaching out from an education standpoint like never before because they've been forced to. And that provides me with the hope that speaks to one of my favorite quotes by Gandhi that says that we have to be the change that we wish to see. And I truly believe many of our educators understands what that change is and are truly being that change that we wish to see. And I'm looking forward to watching the great stories across this world that continue to happen, that end up in white papers and end up in research that can allow us as educators to have something to reach towards to make that difference that we want to see.

Adam Smith: 32:24 Well, Millard, I think you are an astounding human being. It sounds like you have been living by that quote. You have been making the change that you want to see, and I hope you continue to. And I want to thank you again for finding the time in what can only be an incredibly busy schedule to speak to us on Voices in Education today. Really appreciate your time. Where can our listeners find you online if they would like to see what you're getting up to or see how you're getting on?

Millard House: 32:47 They can find me at www.pgcps.org, that stands for Prince George's County Public Schools. And I can be found on Twitter by just looking up Millard House, Facebook as well, and Instagram by simply looking up Millard House. And we look forward to having as many individuals follow us and take a look at the value-added progress that we're making as a school district.

Adam Smith: 33:20 That brings us to the end of today's episode of Voices in Education. But now, we'd love to hear from you. If you've enjoyed this episode, don't forget to leave a rating and review to help other listeners like you find the podcast. We'd also love for you to continue the conversation over on our social channels. You can follow us on Twitter as well @Securly, over on Instagram and Facebook at Securely, Inc. And on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/company/securly. I look forward to seeing you all there.

33:47 So from me and from Millard, thank you again for tuning in and don't lose sight of what you do for so many young students every day. You make a lot of sacrifices, but those sacrifices are making meaningful differences to so many. And we're all in this together, so never forget that. Take care.

34:05 Thanks for tuning in to the Voices in Education podcast, powered by Securly. For more episodes and additional details about the podcast, visit https://securly.com/podcast.