• Education leaders, influencers visit CAC

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    More than 40 senior Army leaders and education professionals met for the Army Marketing and Research Group’s fifth annual, “Leaders Building Leaders: A U.S. Army Leadership Symposium” Nov. 1-3 at the Lewis and Clark Center.
    “We’re working to connect America with America’s Army,” said Col. John Oliver, deputy director at AMRG. “The centers of influence in there — principals and high school counselors — are an incredibly important audience to do that with because they touch so many kids in so many different parts of the country.”
    The symposium included panel discussions, team-building projects, a bus tour of Fort Leavenworth and small group discussions. Topics discussed included leader development, student success, critical thinking and decision making, and opportunities for collaboration with the Army.
    “What’s really energizing is how quickly and organically these two spheres — leaders in the Army and leaders in education — come together around common ground,” said Sara Gavin, president of Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm.
    A panel of four soldiers — Maj. Avon Cornelius, senior production manager, AMRG; Capt. Ron Riggi, commander, Liberty Recruiting Company, Kansas City Recruiting Battalion; Sgt. Robert Maldonado III, Liberty Recruiting Company, Kansas City Recruiting Battalion; and Cadet Joe McConnell, University of Kansas Army ROTC — answered questions about why they chose to join the Army, when they saw leadership throughout their careers, and how their high school principals and counselors played a role in their decision to join the Army.
    “I’m making an impact,” Cornelius said of his first job as a platoon leader, adding that he is still in touch with 25 of the 40 soldiers he supervised as a second lieutenant. “That’s when I realized I was making a difference.”
    Riggi said he feels he has the best job in the Army.
    “The best thing about the Army right now is my current job because I get to go and interact with these fine people every day and find the best and brightest to take over,” Riggi said. “I look at it as finding the future to defend myself when I can’t do it.”
    Maldonado had a different career plan to be a firefighter before deciding to join the Army.
    “I initially enlisted to figure out what I wanted to do … and I wanted to blaze a trail of my own,” he said explaining that most of his family were firefighters.
    Maldonado said his high school counselors were supportive of him when his career path started to shift.
    “My counselors absolutely had a role in it because they sat down with me. They saw me every single day,” Maldonado said. “They had a big part to do with my firefighting career, too but as soon as they saw my path shifted … they still supported me in everything that I needed in order to enlist into the Army.”
    Page 2 of 3 - McConnell said he wanted to achieve the same success that he saw his three older brothers achieve through the Army.
    “I was able to see when I was in high school, the great things that my brothers were doing. The things they were good at, the things that they weren’t so good at. The things they weren’t so good at, the Army was making them much better,” McConnell said. “I was able to see the success they were having, and I thought to myself, ‘I think I can do that’ and if I can’t, I want to find out how to test my mettle.”
    McConnell said he had a perspective to offer to current high school seniors.
    “A four-year national scholarship is life altering, especially for college,” McConnell said. “I’ve never had to worry about money in college and that independence is also life altering. Being able to do for yourself just puts your maturity at a whole new level. You’re able to make decisions for yourself and that portion of Army ROTC is huge.”
    Riggi said it’s a matter of encouraging and motivating his soldiers every day.
    “(It’s making) sure they understand they are important and that it goes back to making them feel that what they do is something that not only the Army needs but their community needs,” he said. “My goal is to make them understand that they are needed both in the Army and in the community.”
    Sgt. Maj. Luke Legg, senior enlisted advisor for the AMRG, told attendees that there were only three things the Army asks of them.
    “The key is recommend, support and consider. That’s what we ask. You are influencers. You influence your students, you influence other family members to recommend, support and consider,” Legg said. “What we want to do is introduce America to her Army.”
    Oliver said he thought the small groups sessions were a very positive offering for the educators.
    “They’re interested. They’re engaged. I think they appreciate (the senior leaders) taking their time to really answer questions and give thoughts,” Oliver said. “Putting educators as close as you can get to one-on-one with senior leaders is awesome.”
    Many attendees agreed with Oliver’s perspective on the small group discussions.
    “These small group discussions, I think, are really beneficial because it allows people a smaller and safer place to learn and to share,” said Katherine Pastor, board of directors of the American School Counselor Association.
    Dan Kelley, president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said hearing the stories of the senior leaders in small groups had a lot of takeaways.
    Page 3 of 3 - “At the end of the day it’s all about relationships … and making sure you’re taking care of people and if people know that they truly care about you then they’ll go through walls for you,” he said. “It’s the same thing when you’re running an Army and you have soldiers underneath you, and it’s the same thing when you’re running a classroom and you have 30 kids sitting in front of you. If they know they care about you then you can get a lot more accomplished in a classroom.”
    Megan VerVynck, assistant principal of Westmont High School in Westmont, Ill., said she found the small groups to be the most beneficial part of the symposium.
    “Having that personal one-on-one connection with (senior leaders) and being able to get your specific questions answered has been invaluable,” VerVynck said.
    VerVynck said she learned new things that she didn’t know about the Army and the parallels between Army leaders and leaders in schools.
    “I learned a lot of new things about the Army that I didn’t know before,” VerVynck said. “I think that there is a very similar mindset. Both education and the Army have this growth mindset about creating leaders and being invested in the future of what our school system looks like, what our country looks like, what our workforce looks like, and I think our mission, vision and values are very similar.”
    Kelley said he was blown away by the event, and Pastor said the Army deserved the biggest thanks.
    “This is a tremendous partnership with (ASCA), NASSP and the Army,” Kelley said.
    “Thanks to the Army. I know it’s a financial situation for them to help us be out here. As educators and military, we don’t have a lot of finances between the two of us, but we can make it work,” Pastor said. “I think they realize the value and the benefit of educators, and a lot of times it’s a very thankless job so, for them realizing the work that we’re doing day to day is impactful to us. So, we appreciate them recognizing us and allowing us to be a part of the opportunity to have the discussion and to continue on together.”
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