360 Degrees with Dr. Melody Johnson, former superintendent of Fort Worth ISD

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    The TCU College of Education welcomed its newest faculty member and former superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, Dr. Melody Johnson, on August 17. Johnson will hold the Scholar in Residence position in the College of Education, and will be working with other faculty in the educational leadership program. She will also teach a leadership class starting in the spring semester of 2012, and will be working to improve leadership in urban school settings.

    Q: How do you think being a superintendent for an urban school system for the past six years has shaped your views on leadership?

    A: “Well, I think any work that you do or any experience you have shapes your views and your thinking. First of all, I think you learn that you have to respect the culture that exists if you want to make any changes. I think culture, climate and relationship kind of underpin everything else that you do around a leadership position. So, if you want to make organizational changes, you have to understand the organization, you have to understand the people in the organization and establish relationships with them if you want to move anything.”

    Q: What are you looking to accomplish at TCU with the Center for Urban Education?

    A: “Just the fact that the university is even willing to have a focus on urban education, I think speaks volumes. [TCU] does all kinds of programming. They want the courses to meet the needs of the organizations that the leaders are going to be serving in. The professors that are there already are very well-read and very up-to-date on state of the art kinds of things being done in education. urban education is just a whole other set of challenges. The children in those systems have a multiplicity of needs and challenges that you don’t necessarily find in suburban or more homogeneous kinds of school systems or schools. [TCU] understands that education is dynamic and not static. I very much appreciate that philosophy and that openness to looking at new things and new ways of doing things, while also building on to what already exists is a valuable quality.”

    Q: What kind of program are you hoping to build at TCU?
    A: This was very much a team effort and I’m just one person on this team and each of us bring different experiences and different perspectives, and I think that is one of the most exciting things. We’ve just had one initial meeting.  We’re going to start by looking at what is, that’s always a good starting point. We’ll look at all the different strands of leadership and then again particularly where urban education is concerned. The whole gambit of leadership we’re going to look at is from the business perspective, the operational side of things, to the human side of things.

    Q: Do you have some ideas of what the main focuses of your leadership class will be?

    A: “I think what I’d like to do is look at the balance of leadership, and that again is business and organizational skills sets cannot be underestimated and cannot be ignored. But I also think the human side, that if you don’t have relationships you aren’t going to go anywhere. I’ve always told principals and leaders that I lead that leadership is first and foremost about relationships, relationships, relationships. I think what we’ll probably be looking at is what are the components of leadership if you are in a CEO position of any organization or any leadership position. What are all those things you have to think about? What are the skill sets? What are the dynamics you have to contend with and what are the practical pieces?”

    Q: What are you hoping students will take away from your class?
    A: “One thing I do believe in is [that] you have to be well-read. They have to know how to write well and communicate well, and writing is one component of communicating. They have to know how to think. They have to understand systems, and how systems work, and the component parts of systems. The analytical skills are, I think, critical. I think having some sort of field experiences, some practical, hands on, real problem-solving kind of experiences are critical, as well. So those will be some of the areas that I’ll be looking at developing into the next curriculum, a high quality curriculum.”

    Q: How do you think local leaders can make a positive influence on the youth and students?

    A: “It depends on what area of the community you’re talking about. Business community has one role to play, churches have a very significant role to play, foundations in community health and human service organizations have other kinds of roles to play, and of course, parents. So how you engage all those people in a meaningful way is another real leadership challenge.”

    Q: What kinds of improvements would you like to see come from this new program that you will help start at TCU?
    A: “I would like to have students participate and leave feeling well-prepared. It’s very difficult to prepare leaders in today’s world because of the complexities. Everything has changed in society, particularly because of technology. Since the 80s, it’s been so fast forward, so I would like them to feel like they have a good foundation and have them well-prepared. I would like students to leave the program in educational administration to know and to feel confident that they have a support network of people at the university that will always be there for them.”