Angela Bush on the Accelerate Your Performance Podcast

Can effective leadership create ripple effects that extend beyond school walls? Join Dr. Janet Pilcher as she connects with Lisa Nellessen Savage of the Pensacola News Journal to highlight the impact of CivicCon on the Pensacola community. Continue listening as she interviews Dr. Angela Bush of Jefferson County Schools, a recent CivicCon presenter, to hear how she spearheaded school improvement efforts that became a catalyst for community transformation. Listen as Dr. Bush emphasizes how the Nine Principles® Framework has shaped her leadership and explains how the principles she hardwired at Erwin Middle School in Alabama can be replicated in any school.

This episode addresses questions such as:

  • What are the broader impacts of successful leadership within an organization or community?
  • How can well developed systems and processes be hardwired into an organization?
  • What does it look like in practice to develop leaders to develop people?

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Episode Transcript

Angela Bush: We built a lot of our success on those Nine Principles Framework of Excellence. And I really like those principles because you can apply them to any organization.


[Intro music plays in background]


Janet Pilcher: So, Angela, it’s with great pleasure that I welcome you back to our show today. So good for you to be with us. You and I have been together for the last couple of days.


Angela Bush: Yes.


Janet Pilcher: You had an opportunity to present at CivicCon, and then we were with the principals for these Escambia County School District.


As we begin the podcast in the episode today, we had a chance to connect with Lisa Nellessen Savage from the Pensacola News Journal, who you also had a chance to connect with because—


Angela Bush: Yes


Janet Pilcher: —you did the clip at the Channel 3 news station here in Pensacola, and you got a chance to meet her.


But we’re going to just kind of turn it over to her for a few minutes and give her an opportunity to talk a little bit about CivicCon, then you and I come back and talk about what we learned in the last couple of days and then talk about leadership.


Lisa Nellessen Savage: I’m Lisa Nellessen-Savage. I’m the executive editor of the Pensacola News Journal and a founding board member of CivicCon, which is a partnership with the Pensacola News Journal. We bring in different speakers that can enlighten our community on best practices on a wide range of issues that are actively impacting our community.


They can take that information and do with it what they will, but this saves the community from having to, you know, school boards and county and city from having to send people to training. Why not bring them here?


So, as an executive editor, I oversee all of the news content, so whether that’s news, sports, features, opinions, whatever it might be, that’s all under my purview.


Voiceover: What is the purpose of the CivicCon event and how does the Pensacola News Journal support that?


Lisa Nellessen Savage: So, CivicCon is an initiative with the Pensacola News Journal and then the CivicCon Board, which is just a couple of community members, including Quint Studer and Will Dunaway, and it also includes myself and our content editor, Kevin Robinson.


We really started with a group of individuals in the community who just really passionate about our community and we wanted to help it grow as wisely as it could with all of these people coming to our community and all that infrastructure that’s needed, we wanted to be able to bring in the leading experts from across the nation to guide us from many different, you know, areas that you could come at it from.


So, it was land use, it was public-private partnerships, it was social issues like homelessness and equity, and education is the latest realm that we’re jumping into. So, with our speaker this week on Thursday, we have Dr. Angela Bush coming in and she is a principal from a Birmingham school. She has done the most incredible things in that school district.


Very similar demographics to our community, very much a challenging school. It has always been an F school in Florida standards. It’s always been considered failing, one of the worst academic-wise in the entire state of Alabama.


And so, she came in and was able to lift that school in just a couple years for the first time ever out of the F range and into a D, which is very, very difficult to do. I mean, we know that here in Escambia County. We have, I believe, four F schools, five D schools. We know how hard that is, but what she did to bring her community on board, and it’s not just the academics. I mean, she changed school attendance, school behavior, crime, all of these very important things that lead to school performance. She just has made incredible gains. So, our thought was, what can we learn from her?


I mean, there might be some things that we could easily pick up on. There might be things that don’t fit for our school district, but what a gift to at least bring her in and let community decide if this is something that they can do or not.


Voiceover: Dr. Angela Bush presented on how she partnered with Studer Education to lead a major school improvement effort at Erwin Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama. What lessons does she bring to the audience?


Lisa Nellessen Savage: So, Dr. Angela Bush actually did two different presentations to our community. The first one was open to the public. Anyone could attend. We livestreamed that on the pnj.com, so you can still find that live cast on there. And then the next morning, she presented specifically with hand-picked administrators in the Escambia County School District. She worked with the superintendent to have a session that was very hands-on, where she could really get into the nitty-gritty of what they could do, some tools that she could provide for them. That was closed to just them. I wasn’t there because they wanted it to be a very comfortable space where they could ask questions.


But on Thursday night, what she did was show us what’s possible. So, Dr. Bush talked about how she really brought in the community. And that to me, that was my takeaway. She brought in community to help lift up that school. She went business to business, introducing herself, getting their contact information. She provides regular report cards, some transparency reports, and here’s truancy. Here’s school grades, here’s behavior issues.


And in turn, that community invested in her. They’re providing gift certificates to students who score particularly high in some area or who have reduced their behavior or increased their academics.


One of the things that she talked about that I found the most intriguing because I’ve not seen it anywhere else, is she created an ambassador’s club. Typically, when you hear about ambassadors for a school, it is your most successful students. These are the students that you want front-facing. You want everybody to see them and, you know, think about what’s possible.


She took the students that were most at risk of failing because of different issues that might be impacting them. And she just built them up, you know, told them how proud she was of them, how they were great representatives of their school, really just built them up. And in turn, you saw their attendance skyrocket, you saw their academics skyrocket, you saw their behavior issues really plummet because they really felt proud of being part of that school.


Voiceover: What is the learning impact this event has for the Pensacola community?


Lisa Nellessen Savage: So I really hope the learning impact on our Pensacola community is what could be. It’s hard when you’re year after year after year, even though we’ve got such incredible teachers, here we do, they work so hard. But the needle hasn’t moved in many of our schools, whether it’s elementary or middle school or high school. And I’m hoping that they learn new tricks, new tools, new entry points into handling a discussion so that they can feel empowered to, you know, initiate some of these things.


It’s really about hope for me. I want community members, first off, to know we can do this. You know, we don’t need excuses. We don’t need, “oh, you know, this is a, you know, a poor, you know, demographic” or whatever the case may be. Absolutely. This is true and it’s a challenge. But there’s hope and we can get there.


And then as far as our educators, I would really like them to come away having learned some tools that they can put into practice that make a difference in their classroom.


Janet Pilcher: So thank you, Lisa, for telling our audience a little bit more about Civicon. And so Angela, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about Civicon and the session that we had with the Escambia County principals.


You know, as I mentioned to the principals this morning, last night was about bringing our community, bringing our Pensacola and surrounding community together and hearing your story, hearing the story of when you were principal at Erwin Middle School and the systems and processes that you put in place and the way that you did great outreach to the community. And the results are not only embedded within your school, but they’ve impacted your whole community.


And then as we worked with the principals, we’re really talking about how do we take some of the practices that you do at Erwin Middle School and now at you lead at other schools and really think about how they could transfer those practices in their schools.

So as you think about last night and the conversation today, just give our audience a quick summary of, you know, what were the major outcomes that you accomplished and what were the things that as you left the principalship, you said these are the things that we really accomplished and for a community and for principals and leaders? Here’s what I take with me that you could take with you.


Angela Bush: So I would like to say that we built a lot of our success on those Nine Principles Framework of Excellence. And I really like those principles because you can apply them to any organization when you’re focusing on getting better at getting better.


And then when you’re thinking in terms of school and school improvement, where we were getting better at getting better, not just thinking about the day, but the next day, the next year and the year thereafter. So we formed a succession plan. And that included again, hardwiring those processes and procedures in place so that they were sustainable. So along the way, we were really able to track the data.


And we, that was a system, a process that we hardwired into the daily operations of our school, tracking that data, monitoring where we were, were validating what we’re doing was working and then adjusting if needed. If needed.


So I’m happy to say that now that I’m gone, this has continued. So it’s just a testament to the fact that those processes and systems worked. The system worked. We put pressure on the system and not the people. So now they’re able to sustain that level of success.


Janet Pilcher: Yeah, I think that’s so key. And that was clear in your message and something that what we’re familiar with is some dynamic leader, which you are, you’re a dynamic leader. You go into a school, and that dynamic leader does great things for a certain period of time.  And then when the dynamic leader leaves, it all goes with that leader.


And just love what you talked about with the work that we do with the Nine Principles Framework, building those systems. So when we bring on somebody new, we’re hiring people to that system. And we’re basically training people to, new leaders to come in and apply that system so that we sustain those gains and continue to help those students and families as we move through.


You know, I’m just going to ask you a question, you know, because something that I’ve learned, I’ve heard you speak a number of times, we’ve done podcasts together. It’s great to have you back on the show.


But something that you said really, really resonated with me in terms of the impact that you made with student success, with really managing behavior and helping kids manage themselves within the school and be productive.


But I just go back to the story that you told about crime in the community and the reduction of crime. And I just would love for you just to tell, yeah, you haven’t told that story here, but I’d love for you before we get started into the leadership piece to tell that story on not just the impact that it had on the school, but what impact the work had on your entire community.


Angela Bush: Well, of course, we all know that whatever happens in the school bleeds over to the community and whatever is happening in the community bleeds over to the school. So it was our goal to make sure that we were intentional about connecting with all community resources and just the community people.


So one major thing we collaborated with the Sheriff’s Department, all of our schools have school resource officers. So our school resource officer served as a member of our leadership team. So whenever we needed to make those home visits, he accompanied us on those home visits.


Now we had a parent university, a parent university where we wanted to provide parents more information and knowledge on exactly what the data meant. We invited the Sheriff, the Sheriff of Jefferson County, Sheriff Pettway to come out. We actually thought that he was going to send a representative. However, he came himself. So that was so profound because he was really able to show the direct correlation to the parents of school attendance when students are not present in school during school hours and how it directly correlates with crime in the neighborhood. That really resonated with parents.


So throughout all of our efforts in working with the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, local churches, Firestone, automotive companies, we have really been able to form a partnership with the community so that everybody is a part of what we’re doing, collective efficacy. And I was having a conversation with the Sheriff the other day and he said, “you know what? We’ve noticed that this community, this area is not a hotspot for crime anymore. And it has to be attributed to all of the community collaboration that’s happened over the last three, three to four years.”


Janet Pilcher: So good. I mean, that’s an outstanding result and one that you didn’t necessarily set out to do. But just the school, it just shows how education is such a critical part of our community and how the leadership makes a difference in how we impact not only the lives of students and parents, but our entire communities.


So it is a solution. I know you have too, I’ve always thought that education is a cornerstone. It’s the key to really helping us solve so many of the problems that we have out there.


So just congratulations on that because I think that’s just an outstanding result and so good for your community, Angela.


Angela Bush: And great for our school and our team.


Janet Pilcher: You’ve got that. You got it.


That’s great in terms of talking about leadership. Let’s shift a little bit to, we know what you’ve done. You’ve exhibited phenomenal leadership and now you’re in a position where you’re leading others. You’re leading other principals. I think you’re working with 15 schools.


Angela Bush: Yes, 15 elementary schools,


Janet Pilcher: Fifteen elementary schools. So what does it take for you when you’re looking at trying to help them achieve the outcomes? You know, what do you what do you have to consider as a leader when you’re teaching them?


Angela Bush: Again, it goes directly back to those Nine Principles, and two that I focus on mainly because, again, regardless to wherever you are in your school improvement walk or any organization, when you’re focusing on excellence, you have to come up with some guides. So these two principles guide our work, whether I’m working with one school of 15 schools.


The first one would be develop leaders to develop people because anytime you’re focusing on excellence, no one person can do it alone. You have to prepare others to step out and lead.


And then when you do that continuously and consistently, then you continue to produce results.

The next one I would say is building a culture around service. And for us, that was where we started to really see our success because our community saw that we were providing a service for them. We were intentional about building those relationships. And the more we built the relationships and built the trust, then people saw that we cared. And that’s when we got the buy-in from the entire community.


So again, just carrying those practices over to other schools and just duplicating what we did at that one school.


Janet Pilcher: Yeah. So it is that system. So it’s really taking that system and really applying that system, looking at those principles and duplicating. And, and share a stat. I also heard you talk about the last couple of days, Angela, when you talked about you, when you were the principal, you were really focused on developing , um, developing the people to be leaders, focusing on that principle. Talk about the outcome of that with the number of teachers that actually became district administrators.


Angela Bush: Well, I am so happy to say that early on, the school wasn’t in a position where people felt that they could move forward in leadership. However, after going through our school improvement journey and really applying those principles to the work that we were doing, I am so happy to say that we have had more teachers out of our one school building to be promoted to leadership positions within our school district than years in the past.


And that’s, that’s a huge testament to their work there. And just it lets me know that they really bought into the system. And so now it warms my heart to know that they are applying those principles in their current roles, their current leadership roles.


Janet Pilcher: Yeah, I’ve heard, the stories are so powerful, Angela. And if you don’t, if it’s OK today, I’d love for you to share the story, um, to show an example of that. Because what you’re, you know, you’re providing leadership.


So we think sometimes leadership is just this grand thing that we have to learn all these things to do. And the Nine Principles really give us the tools and tactics and the systems to do that. But it’s also that relationship and interpersonal relationship that you have with people as you’re developing them.


Would you share the story of the teacher in your building that had instructional certificate- certificate and let it lapse? You know what you want I’m talking about?


Angela Bush: Yes, yes.


Janet Pilcher: Because that’s, that’s such an example of the human side of leadership. And what I know what now what you’re doing is taking that human side of who you are and applying that across all the leaders in the district that you’re working with. So share that story.


Angela Bush: So I had a teacher when I was assigned to the school back in 2019. I think she had become a little she felt as though she was being overlooked. Her overall aura was very downtrodden. She had been at the school for close to 15 years. She received her instructional leadership master’s degree. And of course it costs money to go and receive that additional knowledge. And she explained that she had applied for jobs. But again, she felt she was being overlooked because she was at that particular school.


So we shifted her focus. We made her a part of our leadership team, assigned leader action items to her so that she could really see that the work she was doing was worthwhile. She saw the purpose and that she was making a difference.


So as we moved along our school improvement journey, I stayed in her ear because I wanted to be intentional about developing her to be a leader. So along the way we had conversations about, you know, “have you thought about renewing your certification?” Because she allowed it to lapse because she had become so discouraged.


And over the course of three years, we talked, had conversations. She took on more leader roles. And I am so happy to say that she is now completing her second year as an assistant principal. And I like to say she has been a successful assistant principal. But again, just helping her to press that reset button and just starting over and know that she brings value to the field of education.


Janet Pilcher: So good. And somebody that could have been lost, right? Somebody without that, without a leader taking that initiative to develop other people and say to yourself and for us as leaders that that is our responsibility. It is part of our responsibility is to develop other people and to look at what their needs are and to really provide that support. And you did that really well.


And I think the people that you’re working with now are really lucky to have you in terms of developing, developing them and continue to do that. So that principle is really, really important, really important in terms of what we do each and every day.


You know, so as we close Angela, let’s just talk about just the insights that you’ve gained about leaders and districts and the needs that people have when we teach them. What have you learned? Like as you think back over Erwin Middle School and the leadership team, you know, the broadness of the leadership team, leadership team wasn’t a position in Erwin Middle School. It was people who came around collectively together across the board because you gave them that opportunity. You know, talk about that a little bit.


Angela Bush: So what I’ve learned along the way is that regardless to where you are in your organization or school improvement, there is always room for growth, especially when you’re thinking in terms of great leaders. Great leaders focus on excellence. So when you’re focusing on excellence, you’re always wanting to get better at getting better. And again, that takes me back to my favorite two principles, developing leaders to develop people and building a culture around service.


Again, just moving forward, just learning and embracing the role as being a servant leader. And that’s what I’ve learned so far that most leaders are true servant leaders. However, as they’re developing people, we’re still developing ourselves as well.


Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And you gave, you know, you gave some, this morning, you also said to the leaders, “before you can develop people, you have to take care of yourself.”


Angela Bush: Absolutely. And I’m very intentional in doing that.


Janet Pilcher: Yes. And sometimes we don’t do that. Right. Sometimes we just don’t as leaders take time to take care of ourselves. And, and uh, when we don’t do that, we’re certainly not good for other people.


[Outro music plays in the background.]


Janet Pilcher: Angela, just appreciate what you did the other night for our community and really the, the presentation that you provided to show the impact that you made with other people in your school to make a difference in a community and, and how any community can make that difference with the good systems and processes. And thank you for the connection that you had with the, the principals.


One of the things that we talked about is just how important it is to build networks of good people working together. Because we’re all out for a common cause of helping students and their families be at their best. And what you did is not only do that, but you made a community great.


Angela Bush: Thank you, thank you.


Janet Pilcher: Thank you so much.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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