“Dr. Gander’s willingness to take on problems and attained leadership abilities turned our school around in a relatively short period of time. He calmed the school atmosphere by centering our decisions on three things: a) district policy and b) consistency in process when making tough decisions, c) the use of our district vision. He listened to the community, made tough decisions by letting a teacher go, hired other quality instructors and introduced new educational programs for the students.”

— Andy Wilburn, Board Member (Chair 2008-2009)
Long Creek School District #17

Leadership Statement

In reflecting on my leadership philosophy I find it originates from a people centered approach that seeks to develop the capacity of each individual within a shared vision process to guide decision-making. This approach originates in my Peace Corps training and has guided me through a variety of leadership experiences. Our mantra was “make sure the local group leads because you are but a visitor here.” Although I hope to be part of each community for many years, my leadership philosophy is based in high quality sustainable programs.

My purpose as an educator and a leader is to improve the skills, abilities, and the lives of those with whom I am fortunate to work. This is the foundation of my decision-making.

With the variety of tasks required by today’s school administrators, leaders need to be closely connected to their constituents and subsequently their lives. Therefore, my goal in providing the best opportunity for students to learn requires that each situation has roots in a clear vision but also requires a fresh perspective; and a questioning mind. In this way school personnel find what is best for the students, supports the family and retains the trust of the professional staff. I am fortunate to have learned my leadership skills in diverse environments from rural Africa to urban China. But it also stems from multi-cultural experiences in urban area like San Jose California, and Salem Oregon, also time spent in rural communities in Oregon. In each situation I have relied on the principle: “Build on the shoulders of those whom I serve by creating growing experiences for the individuals involved, while serving the vision of the community.”

Collins in his book Good to Great refers to these efforts as defining your core mission; taking care of that mission is first and foremost in effective leadership. I also agree with Collins that leaders should be transformational as opposed to charismatic or dogmatic. Therefore my preference is to work from a leadership team format that gives voice to the variety of dedicated professionals and uses their strengths to achieve the organization’s goals. In this context the Board is seen as the policy development body working alongside the superintendent and the professional staff. The superintendent and the district’s staff are seen as the specialized professionals charged with advising upon and carrying out the policy through the development of research based strategies that meet the needs of agreed upon policy directives. Servant leadership or distributed leadership of this type requires I recognize the strengths’ in my colleagues during the decision-making process and support their development in areas that they may feel less than effective.

Along with guaranteeing the growth of all employees a transformational leader has a duty to put in motion a process that helps the community and the dedicated educational professionals voice their beliefs in setting the road map for the organization. In times of stability, and in transition, a developing learning organization understands what the road map looks like for a reasonable amount of time into the future, and therefore knows their role in supporting the vision.

I feel this level of strategic planning is critical in providing those within the organization a frame of reference for decision-making and “sense-making.” When state mandates force a local district to recalibrate its direction, that process is much easier on staff if their intended course is already well understood. As a leader I have always built annual plans around the district’s longer range strategic plan. To do so I utilize a team planning model to:

a) integrate budgets into action plans,

b) exercise discipline when forecasting timelines,

c) help define what excellence will look like,

d) delegate individual responsibilities, and

e) utilize feedback mechanisms to keep the process working. In this approach I instill a sense of connectedness in what Weick calls “…a loosely coupled educational system.”

The leadership of a district is a tremendous responsibility, one that should be undertaken with humility and integrity. To achieve goals focused on effective communication, developing high quality programs, ensuring fiscal stability, supporting quality staff development and fostering safe / supportive schools requires a focus on others. Leadership is not about personal successes, but about collaboration and how the organization is thriving.