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Denkmann Elementary Schools Earns Lighthouse Status

When you walk into Denkmann Elementary School you can feel that there's something in the air, that you're in the presence of something special. 
While Denkmann staff witnesses what that something special is every single day, it's gotten the attention of someone else too. Denkmann is a Leader in Me School. What that means is there 7 habits the staff, students, and even parents live by. These habits come from Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Covey researched the habits of the most successful people in the world and wrote a book about it. Today many schools across the country practice the Leader in Me habits in their school's environment and curriculum to help students become even more ready to succeed in the 21st Century. 
"I totally believe it and I have nothing but seen the benefit of it. I'm a student of the 7 Habits myself. I have seen success from it. I don't really want to lead a school without it," said Pat Versluis, Principal at Denkmann.
One of the highest honors a Leader in Me school can achieve is Lighthouse Status, which Denkmann earned that status this year!
"When you establish yourself with the Leader in Me and you teach the staff the 7 Habits and then have the staff teach the students the 7 Habits and really adopt this philosophy of leadership and empowerment of students using those 7 Habits the goal is to be recognized with Covey as a school that's doing that," said Verluis.
The 7 Habits are:
Habit 1 - Be Proactive
Habit 2 - Begin With the End in Mind
Habit 3 - Put First Things First
Habit 4 - Think Win-Win
Habit 5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6 - Synergize
Habit 7- Sharpen the Saw
Every day at Denkmann, staff strive to have students take responsibility in leadership roles as much as possible. Whether through their Student Announcement Team, the Green and Clean Team, the Who Ya Gonna Call Team, the Safety Patrol Team, Office Runners, several helper teams, or their Student Lighthouse Team. The list goes on and on for opportunities for students to show leadership.
"If we have this intentional practice of giving kids responsibilities in classrooms, it empowers them to feel good about themselves, they're going to take the rest of the stuff that we give them seriously. They might not want to do that math lesson today but they'll do it because they have a good trusting relationship built with that staff member," said Mr. Versluis. 
Last school year (2022-2023) Denkmann started the conversation with their Leader in Me coach about the process of getting reviewed for Lighthouse Status. Their coach gave them a mock review and told them the things they needed to work on. Before the end of the school year, they had developed a plan on how they were going to tackle those areas of improvement. Then the start of this school year (2023-2024) they hit the ground running. 
One of the things they changed was transitioning their PTA to a Parent Lighthouse Team. During those meetings, the 7 Habits were taught to parents. They also made sure to document everything they were doing. The Lighthouse Team was making sure everything they needed to get done was getting done. 
Then in October, Mr. Versluis had to choose the review date. He had to formally submit this request to Franklin Covey. In the spring, two weeks before the school's review date Mr. Verlsuis had to submit an evidence binder. It was an extensive process. The presentation he submitted was 144 pages long. 
"It was a lot of work but when we had the synergy that's what really helped us get through that part of it," said Mr. Versluis. 
The binder is a big part of the overall rating. They look at the binder and when they come to do the review they determine whether or not what was said in the binder is true. 
Then in April, the day had come, review day. One Leader in Me Coach from Michigan and one Leader in Me Lighthouse Coordinator from southern Illinois came to Denkmann for the review. It was an all-day process. They met with parents, students, and staff. They went into classrooms to see how the habits were being connected to the lessons. When they ask students about the 7 Habits students had to be able to explain the habits to them automatically and how they use the habits. 
When the review team left, they didn't say much but they did comment on the school's atmosphere. 
"They immediately said they walked into the building and they felt something special was happening here," said Mr. Versluis.
The review report was then sent to Utah where the Covey headquarters is at. Shawn Covey, son of Stephen Covey, and his team personally review all the Lighthouse Status reviews that come through. 
Almost three weeks later Mr. Versluis got a phone call from Denkmann's Leader in Me coach, 
"He called me and I was out on the playground with the 6th-grade students and I can't keep a secret and the kids were like you never answer your phone, and I was like do you want know who I was talking on the phone with? They're like yeah and I said we just received the Lighthouse milestone and they're all screaming and cheering, so that was fun," said Mr. Versluis. 
To receive this status means you're a school that continuously growing in leadership and empowering students to be the leaders of your school and that your school is unique with the inclusion of the 7 Habits. 
To earn Lighthouse School Designation, a school must meet the following criteria:
  • The principal, school administration, and staff engage in ongoing learning and develop as leaders while championing leadership for the school.
  • Leadership principles are effectively taught to all students through direct lessons, integrated approaches, and staff modeling. Students are able to think critically about and apply leadership principles.
  • Families and the school partner together in learning about the 7 Habits and leadership principles through effective communication and mutual respect.
  • The school community is able to see leadership in the physical environment, hear leadership through a common language, and feel leadership through a culture of caring, relationships, and affirmation. 
  • Leadership is shared with students through a variety of leadership roles and student voice leads to innovations within the school.
  • Schoolwide, classroom, family, and community leadership events provide authentic environments to celebrate leadership, build culture, and allow students to practice leadership skills.
  • The school utilizes the 4DX® process to identify and track progress toward Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) for the school, classroom, and staff.
  • Students lead their own learning with the skills to assess their needs, set appropriate goals, and carry out action plans. They track progress toward goals in Leadership Notebooks and share these notebooks with adults in student-led conferences.
  • Teacher planning and reflection, trusting relationships, and student-led learning combine to create environments for highly engaged learning.
Schools are given a set of ratings for three areas: teaching leadership principles, creating a leadership culture, and aligning academic systems. While there are a couple of areas that were rated "still developing" one of the highest ratings was no surprise to Mr. Versluis.
"When you look at the result, the highest ratings are within climate and culture, how it feels in the building, how students have responsibilities."
Mr. Versluis says the work is not done, they will continue to work to make sure they can earn that Lighthouse status and work on the areas that need improving, but he is very proud of what they have accomplished so far. 
"This is about the kids. I want this for the school, not for me. I want this for the kids because I want them to be proud of the school they're going to."

Denkmann joins one other school in the district that has Lighthouse status, Eugene Field. 
students performing at leadership day
students performing at leadership day
students performing at Leadership day
students performing at leadership day
students performing at leadership day
mr. versluis speaking at leadership day
7 habits signs