Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in GA - Chris Lindsey
“Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Chris Lindsey heard that from his Dad at least a million times, and has made the biblical saying a key pillar in his beliefs and methods. Mr. Lindsey has been Principal of George Washington Carver High School in Columbus GA since August 2005. His Dad, Dr. Eddie T. Lindsey Sr. began his teaching career at Carver in the 1950’s, and in 1975 was appointed as the first black Assistant Superintendent in Muscogee County. Chris’ Mom taught PE in the District until her retirement, and his older brother Eddie Jr. is Principal at Key Elementary School in Columbus. Both sons were expected to do well in school, earn a college degree and put their educational achievements to use helping others in the community. “Dad told us the keys to success began with education and expectations. He was a role model for us and for the community, and made sure we understood our obligations. He let us fail but never let us give up.”
George Washington Carver High School is a new building with an old tradition. The original building opened in 1954 as a junior high with 15 teachers and 379 students in grades 7 and 8 in South Columbus. The current structure is only 2 years old, and houses the Science, Technology and Engineering Magnet Program for Muscogee County. The Magnet program operates as a school within a school, and application to the magnet is open to high school students across the district. GWC currently serves grades 9-12, has 1165 students, 90 teachers and staff, is 95% African-American and 100% free lunch. The school’s Partners in Education are Georgia Power Company, Freeman and Associates, Balfour Beatty, Citizens Trust Bank, The Columbus- Ft. Benning Medical Association and the Airport Thruway Wal-Mart. In 2005, Carver’s graduation rate was 47% and less than 95% of its students participated in state mandated testing. Since 2005, student scores on state tests have risen 10% or more in all areas and the graduation rate is now 75%. “We graduate more than that” said Mr. Lindsey, “but it takes longer for some than for others.”
Chris began teaching Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Columbus High School in 1995 after graduating from Savannah State University with a degree in Marketing. “I wanted to encourage students, especially minority students, to embrace control of their destiny through education and business ownership. Marketing concepts and strategies got them excited about my class, and to stay in my class they had to pass their other classes.” He was encouraged by Principal Ronnie Shehane to prepare for his own future by obtaining administrative certification. Chris earned that certification along with a Masters degree at Troy State in Phenix City, AL, and later completed an EdS degree in Administration and Leadership, also from Troy State. He transferred to Shaw HS in 1998 and taught Marketing and coached football. Charles Flowers was AD and Head Football Coach at Shaw, and Chris learned from him how organization, preparation, focused effort and inspiration could combine to not only produce a winning football program but to positively influence students and the community. “I saw far too many economically disadvantaged students who thought school was a waste of time. They didn’t know how the real world operated. They had intelligence but no direction. They blamed the world rather than dedicating themselves to self-improvement, and had no knowledge of self or self-worth. I wanted to help change that” he continued. “The things I learned from football added to what I had learned from my Dad. The same principles that were effective in sports were effective in my classroom. I learned that caring wasn’t enough, and that I had to work hard to convince kids they didn’t have to fail.”
Chris was named Assistant Principal at Shaw in 2001. His Dad gave him this advice before the school year started; “Son, if you are not able to multi-task all day every day then go back into the classroom. If you can’t deal effectively with parents and the community and develop community support, then stay out of administration. If you can’t deal with criticism, true or not, then stay in the classroom. Be humble, but be passionate about what you do, be strategic, be decisive, and learn to listen before you make a judgement.” His Dad’s advice proved to be prophetic. “I learned the hard way that my Dad was right” Chris said. “I told myself I would be visible, I would be accessible to students and to teachers, I would find the resources to make teaching and learning more effective, I would listen, and that I would under no circumstances allow one person to disrupt the learning process for others. My parents had high expectations for discipline in our home. I have the same expectations for students and teachers in our school” he said quietly.
“Family” is a word you hear a lot at Carver, from teachers and from students. Erin is an 11th grader, and has been a Carver student for almost 3 years. “Teachers here actually see your potential and encourage you to build on it and become something bigger than your circumstances. They will not allow you to waste space and talent. Mr. Lindsey helped me to see the bigger picture. I’m not just working to pass anymore. I’m working on my future” she stated. Mr. Cabrera teaches Automotive Technology, and noted “I am amazed at how far teachers here will go to make sure students succeed in their classes and in their career choices. The one thing we all have in common is we operate as a family. There are issues and problems and arguments and disagreements, but everybody working here cares enough for kids to make sure they do the right thing. We care enough to correct them.” “I feel appreciated by the administrators, the other teachers, my students’ parents and by my students for the things I do” said Ms. Williams, Finance Teacher. “It’s not just a school, it’s truly a family.” Mr. Lindsey believes that the idea of family is an integral part of their success, and noted the attitude goes beyond the walls of the building or the time constraints of the school day. “We’re much more than just part of the community” he continued. “We ARE the community. Our school and business partners make sure community members are part of our students’ education, goals and plans.”
Mr. Lindsey looks for teachers who can relate real life situations to the subjects they are teaching. “Going beyond the textbook” he said “is crucial. Not everything in the textbook is an absolute, and relying solely on the textbook encourages stagnation. It’s like the teacher that has 10 years of experience as opposed to the teacher that has one year’s experience 10 times. I also look for teachers who are willing to develop strong nurturing relationships with parents and students. Those relationships are crucial in helping kids and their families through tough situations. I also encourage collaborative planning for teachers across the curriculum. Great teachers learn from other teachers, and planning, collaboration and the integration of real world experiences are key to good classroom management.” His methods have been effective. George Washington Carver High School was named a Reward School by the Georgia Department of Education in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Chris points to several personality traits that he believes are essential for effective school administration, and lists being a good listener at the very top. “It’s also essential to be an effective communicator, but you have to listen before you speak and listen more than you speak.” His teachers say he can be inspirational, does not shy away from making a decision and shows great courage and a willingness to handle controversy inside and outside the building. “Mr. Lindsey supports teachers in ways they may not even realize” one noted. “He sets the tone and the family atmosphere in the building, and makes this a great place to teach and to learn.” “He is also highly visible” said another teacher, “and attends almost every event or function that involves students. That means a lot to the kids and to their parents.”
“One thing I have noticed,” observed Mr. Lindsey, “is that demands on my time from the District and State levels have increased exponentially. It seems there is a meeting or a form or a survey or a test or a directive from above daily, and it cuts dramatically into the time I would rather spend in the classroom.” He suggests that our state leaders visit schools personally to see what schools and students do every day. “A few visits to our world will hopefully help them see the struggles and adversity that kids and teachers face on a daily basis, and help them to see that new rules and regulations aren’t helping anyone succeed. They need to know they can’t legislate excellence. They need to be helping teachers and not blaming them for problems teachers didn’t create.” Chris also sees Common Core as a corporate scheme to make more money rather than an honest attempt to improve education. “Teachers, school administrators, business leaders and universities need to collaborate to decide state curricula. Instead, politicians have hijacked the process and pitted local public schools against the University system rather than finding ways to encourage development of a more seamless transition from one to the other. Opportunities for our students diminish or vanish completely in the current political climate. Our teachers and students remain frustrated and confused because of the educational “reforms” and fads that rip through our system every couple of years.”Chris Lindsey and his teachers and staff have created an environment where expectations drive the mission and vision of the school and the community. “We refuse to let outside forces dictate the menu of failure to our students. We have a learning community that serves our community” he said proudly. Senior Qhamora said the same thing in a different way. “George Washington Carver is a special place to me because of the relationships I have with teachers, students and administrators. When I arrived here I was timid and afraid and unsure of myself. Now, as a Senior, I know I have the tools to succeed.” In a world that says that minority kids from high poverty areas are supposed to fail, Chris Lindsey has successfully created a caring, learning community that works together to teach kids how to expect to succeed ...just like the family where he grew up.