Norfolk Public Schools Summer Institute

I’m an educator, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never been much for themes. Even when I put my 5th grade teacher hat on, I wouldn’t say that a full-blown theme truly excites me. Within the past few months, though, my mind has started to change.

I attended my first Leadership Institute this summer as a member of the Focused Schools staff, a consulting group currently working as a turnaround partner with Norfolk Public Schools. I arrived early the first morning and when I walked into the conference room I was a little dumbfounded. In front of me were countless images of classic school buses. They were everywhere:  plastered on t-shirts, glowing on giant projection screens, and laid all over the tables...everywhere I looked there were school buses. There were even wood models that had to be built by each table before the institute finished.

 The winning school bus design. Decided on the final day of the institute.

The winning school bus design. Decided on the final day of the institute.

In the year leading up to this institute, NPS took on a huge transition within their district that’s still taking place as we speak. They’ve made a lot of changes from their central office all the way down to the way their teachers are focusing their instruction. The big work started over a year ago and since then, 12 schools have been fully accredited for three more years and 100% of all subgroups showed reading gains in the Virginia Standards of Learning. They had come a long way, but there was still a long way to go as the institute came.


The NPS institute planning team chose to theme the event based on Jon Gordon’s, ‘Energy Bus’. If you’re not familiar, it’s a great story that shows how positivity and surrounding yourself with the right people can make a huge difference in all that you do. To say the least, the planning team went all in. There were over 100 principals and district leaders in that conference room that united themselves through the ‘Energy Bus’.

The buy-in was incredible. Every speaker and every person in the room showed and felt how important it was to be on the same bus. To be going in the same direction, with the same goal. The leaders in that room, including the superintendent, school principals and even the head of transportation, made it clear that the work ahead was difficult, but had to be done together. In Norfolk Public Schools, there was no more room for people to go solo.

As I stepped outside of my shoes and looked at what was occurring, I was amazed that this many educators could come together during their summer and unite in such a way. Institutes don’t have to be a recap of plans, a review of data and a list of what’s to come. As superintendent Melinda Boone said, “The relationships that have been fostered in these two days will be a game-changer for what we’re doing in Norfolk Public Schools.” The standing ovation that followed made it clear that everyone in that room was on the bus, ready to bring the community of Norfolk to a better place.

 Dr. Boone, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools

Dr. Boone, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools

Bryan RobertsComment