EXCELLENCE For All Stakeholders

11/19/2010  |  Larry Biddle

Several years ago while preparing for a meeting of the Board of Directors at Burroughs & Chapin Company — one of the founding development companies started over 100 years ago in Horry County, South Carolina — I was reading a golf course appraisal and evaluation report on our Arcadian Shores golf course, which at that time was leased to the oceanfront Myrtle Beach Hilton hotel. As I studied the comprehensive document, a four-tiered assessment about the quest for excellence caught my attention: golf courses and schools are very much alike. There are lots of traps! Too many students fall into traps every day! This report featured four distinct categories:
  • Getting By:  These golf courses have significant levels of decay and deterioration. It occurred to me that we had far too many students and even some teachers just “getting by” because they were focused daily on minimum efforts which produced minimal results — certainly not at all acceptable for a competitive global economy where we continue to witness international students out-working our kids “from the neck up.”
  • Decent:  These operations barely cover all of the basics and they are not attractive. Yes, there are ball washers at every hole but some had little water in them and the towels were ragged and frayed. It reminded me of how many times I had heard educators say we have “a decent school, decent students or a decent staff.” How many of us would settle for a “decent pilot” as we board an aircraft?
  • Good:  Small things are done and some little extras are added. It is attractive! It is inviting! It is well-managed! Indeed we have many good schools in our nation. But good is not good enough in the face of all of the international competition we confront every day.
  • Absolute Excellence: Big and small things are done. Little extras are added. It is superb! It is very inviting! It OOZES WOW! I immediately thought about Pine Lakes Country Club, the first course built in Myrtle Beach in 1927, affectionately known as “The Grand Daddy,” where the idea for Sports Illustrated was conceived over 50 years ago. Its signature WOW is a serving of hot chowder or mimosas depending on the weather. I thought, “It’s all about ideas!” Powerful ideas put into action to drive excellence for each and every stakeholder! What could happen if we began to apply these simple concepts in our schools? A crucial Jostens Renaissance element that launched our quest to celebrate teaching and learning.

On our campus at Conway High School we noticed that most of “The Wows” were on the athletic fields and courts! No wonder. Every segment of our entire community  — parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators, players, coaches, the media, business and government — were promoting the excitement of athletics! Taking our cues from this enthusiastic support, we concluded that infusing these same rituals, celebrations and ceremonies for the power of the mind could make academic improvement and achievement just as exciting! Jostens Renaissance workshops asked educators across the nation: “What is the difference between an athletic coach and an academic coach?” The answer is simple ... the academic coaches don’t know what the athletic coaches don’t know they know! What most athletic coaches do not realize: On January 29, 1904, University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonso Stagg gave to his most deserving players a giant blanket inscribed with a block “C”; thus started the Letterman’s Club! Visible, Tangible, Walk-aroundable began! He put a face on athletic improvement and achievement. WOW! Have we gone far beyond the blanket idea: letter sweaters, letter jackets, caps, rings, uniforms, shoes, patches, emblems, pins — to name just a few. Why not put a face on academic improvement and achievement as well? Let’s make it cool to do well in school!

As a nation, we thought of our rock stars, movie stars and sports stars as heroes, but we have begun to realize that our real heroes walk among us every day in our own communities. We are beginning to understand that our teachers play a critical role in the development of young people. We realize that no one gets anywhere without a teacher; our first teachers — parents, grandparents, guardians and foster parents — play an important part. Then elementary, middle, high school, college and university teachers shape who we become.

Perhaps Lee Iacocca has hit the bulls eye with his comments on the power of teachers: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility that anyone can have.”

 Based on this keen insight, seven years ago Burroughs and Chapin began an annual tradition of featuring the top five teachers in our county on highway billboards where they are seen by millions of people coming to the Grand Strand. Thus far 35 teachers have been showcased for their passion for excellence in teaching and learning. It occurred to me that we must also feature our college and university professors for their commitment to preparing young America. Across Horry County we now hold up teachers from kindergarten to college and university ... simple Jostens Renaissance thinking that sets a new standard for our nation!

This innovative idea is supported by Coastal Outdoor Advertising, a division of Burroughs and Chapin Company, as a public service that reinforces the most important profession for the future of our nation. In addition, each professional receives a miniature billboard for display at home or at work. Horry County Schools, Horry Georgetown Technical College and Coastal Carolina University will also receive a replica of the billboard to place in a prominent location for all to view. The WOW factor at work!

Our final point is that only three professions wear the gown: judges, ministers and teachers. Why? These three professions are all in the pursuit of truth — but they all owe who they are to teachers — the most essential profession for every one of us ... our teachers indeed deserve The WOW factor! Other public service billboards can feature your teachers too! It is yours for the asking!

Larry Biddle is considered the founder of Jostens Renaissance. He has been a student of the impact of recognition on individual achievement for two decades. He served as vice-chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, as well as a member of the Coastal Education Foundation at CCU. Dr. Biddle currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Coastal Carolina University..

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