Education: Sumner County Leadership Academy



How do you create a great school system? You start by growing strong leaders. That’s why the Sumner County Leadership Academy was created.

It all started with a casual conversation between Benny Bills, a long-time Sumner County school administrator, and Charles Lea, then-Executive Director of Union University in Hendersonville. “A few conversations later, Associate Professor Mike Shackleford entered the mix and the rest is history,” says Renee Dauer, Union University’s Campus Director and chair of the school’s Adult and Professional Studies program.

Designed as a partnership between Sumner County Schools and Union University, the Sumner County Leadership Academy was created to give aspiring school leaders the tools needed to not only be a leader but lead in strategic ways and transform schools. Participants listen to guest speakers from schools and universities throughout Tennessee, work on leadership projects, enjoy networking opportunities, and engage in deep conversations that tend to alter perspectives. “We help teachers approach the educational process like entrepreneurs,” says Mike Shackleford, who directs the program. “The goal is to break the norm of what happens in schools and expose participants to unique experiences and ideas.”

The program is intense. Participants meet in the summer for three days and in the fall for two. Extensive pre-work is required and a leadership project is part of the fall curriculum. Participants receive three hours of graduate credit if they enroll in Union University for an advanced degree. Teachers pay nothing to participate; the program is privately funded by local companies and education-minded community groups like the Hendersonville Chamber Foundation and Wilson Bank and Trust.

Since its launch in 2012, 145 educators and administrators have completed the program’s demanding curriculum. Participant groups vary. Some are comprised of teachers who aspire to administrative roles like principal and assistant principal in the Sumner County school district. Other groups are made up of administrators and teacher leaders who want to hone skills that will make them more effective in their current roles. “The goal is for everyone to come together, share experiences, and be pushed to think differently whether they become a school leader or not,” says Dauer.

Getting in isn’t easy. “It's a competitive process and there are always more applicants than spots,” says Shackleford. “Senior leaders in our school district have made it clear. If you want a leadership position in Sumner County Schools, you need to go through this process.”

Though the program is currently limited to educators and administrators from Sumner County Schools, other Middle Tennessee schools have expressed interest. “I wouldn’t rule out expanding the program,” adds Dauer. “Union University is committed to strengthening education and leadership throughout Middle Tennessee.”