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7 Questions with Cameron Curry
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7 Questions with Cameron Curry
Name: Cameron Curry
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: The Classical Academies
Thinker, communicator, achiever, spouse of 29 years, father of three, best friend, businessman, educator, non-profit leader and author.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?
The political dialog and winds of change around what is best for students is relegated to the adults in the room making decisions for what is best for adults for the benefit of adults. This is harmful as the discussion is not in the right place involving students and their academic needs. We have parents demanding quality and excellence from public schools and they have for the past 30 years enjoyed choices within that arena. Due to individuals and organizations, those schools offering choice are under attack and no matter how well they serve students, there is a movement to curb their growth and roadblocks to their success are being created through legislation annually. This constant stream of attack from the majority party are tied to labor unions and the traditional system failing to serve students well. They have to limit these options because what they are not doing in serving students well is being elevated for the masses to see. A strong teacher's union does not equate to a student accessing or receiving a great public education. Navigating this political landscape is a constant leadership distraction and one that does not link to helping all students learn.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am up and working by 7:00 am daily and I retire for the evening by 10:00 pm most nights. This allows me some alone time in the morning to think, plan, and execute my daily routine that is founded on a simple question, "What am I doing today to align with the mission, vision, and values of the organization?" That is a filter that I use when walking into the day so that I am reminded why I have a job, who I am serving, and what I can expect as an outcome of the day's work. I purposely stop working in the evening and purposely do an activity that relates to a personal hobby or interest. I am more than my job and daily investment in my personal pleasures provides balance and an intentional effort to feed my mental health.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
As a person of faith, I clearly have seen over and over again that I am required to give my best daily in pursuit of the organization's goals and objectives. When conditions become unclear, difficult, or unknown, I merely press in believing that the best is yet to come. When these challenges appear, I am reminded I am moving in the right direction. Nothing of worth comes without a struggle. I have seen numerous times over two decades of educational leadership that a rough and rocky road always leads to a beautiful place. The fight is worth it knowing that your leadership efforts are benefiting students and their learning.
4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
\Another leader in my organization, knowing my love for musicals, gave me a copy of a small book that sits on my desk, You Will be Found. The book is based on the lyrics of the song of the same title written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The simple message of the text, colorful watercolor pages, detail that you may feel alone, and truly, you never are as help is always near.
These leadership positions in education are isolating and lonely. We are being asked to provide a safe place for students, deliver, monitor, and provide consequences for government health mandates, and manage the many voices of parents on either side of the wearing or not wearing a mask. Educational leaders in 2021 have been given the impossible task of navigating the landmines of managing the public face of the organization, keeping the needs of students first, encouraging their teams in the work to be accomplished, while combating political agendas, and differing points of view. Civility and common sense are on life-support and a quest for maintaining and keeping your mental health is a daily challenge for a leader.
The lyrics of You Will Be Found often resonate deeply with me.
"Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you're broken on the ground
You will be found
So let the sun come streaming in
'Cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found"
I am fortunate to have colleagues and leaders that care deeply, press in to see that I am okay, and I do the same for others. We have to remind ourselves that in the midst of weekly chaos, we are still making a difference and our work is impacting our students, team members, and community for good.
5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?
I have worked incredibly hard over the past two decades on our brand and reputation. I have a track record of treating others well, investing in their professional skills, while allowing leaders freedom to explore their personal interests as well.
One element that I believe helps is that I have given our leaders a YOU Day each month. This is a day when a leader can plan a personal professional development day that is specific to their needs. They do not have to be in the office that day and their activity should promote balance, mental health, and room to breathe. Examples of what leaders can do with a YOU Day.
Go to the beach, state park, mountain hike, etc with a new leadership book to review and study.
Rest at home and do some planning around the kitchen table.
Connect with a colleague or friend in a different organization and job shadow for the day.
Those are just a few of the options and then in an annual review, I will ask about their favorite YOU Day and then have them detail the effort and outcome. Allowing leaders the freedom to choose, in an environment that is void of micromanagement, is a recipe for personal and organizational success.
6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I have found that it starts with me as the CEO. If people in the organization see that I am taking breaks, I am investing in my health, I am setting boundaries, etc. they will feel a permission, if you will, to do the same. Every leader needs to take on a personal belief that they are part of the solution and their actions have to align with a culture that promotes and values the wellbeing of all in the workforce. You cannot speak to the failure of others when the leader is not doing it themselves.
Culture in any organization has to be on purpose. If the CEO and other leaders are not making the workplace culture a daily investment, just know that another culture will grow and penetrate all areas of the business. Let's be honest, it will most likely be a culture that doesn't promote kindness, value contribution, and encourage growth or development. If you want the team to be successful, then the leader or leaders have to take on modeling daily what you want others to embrace. #CultureOnPurpose
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?
I am a businessman that creates and operates public charter schools. I make it a practice to interact with students on our campuses so that they know who I am and they have a level of comfort approaching me to ask a question or tell a story. That weekly practice on my part is intentional and I keep my office at a school campus so that I am accessible to our students and parents. Plus, this keeps me close to the action, if you will, so that I have an operational understanding of what we are doing and who we are serving.
I love it when students will drop by, share their story, and allow me to press in to ask questions about their time in our schools. One such student, I will call him Billy, was part of our schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. In his 12th grade year Billy started to struggle and began to not show up for class, wanted to give up, and was headed to dropping out all together. His English teacher alerted me to the situation and I personally reached out to Billy. I met him off campus and I told him that he didn't have the right to give up! He had to finish the journey that he started! I told him that I wasn't giving up on him and I was not allowing him to give up on himself. Over the next several weeks, I kept up the pressure, called him a few times a week, and low and behold, myself and our English teacher got him over the graduation finish line.
His parents approached me at graduation, shook my hand and said with tear-filled eyes, "We had given up on Billy making it in high school. You never did!" That was a beautiful, kind, and generous moment for me that I will never forget.