Community is in the Eye of the Beholder
When asked about her favorite out-of-school activity, Sharon Patterson quickly U-turns back to work talk: "My work and my life are intertwined, so when I'm not in the office or in school, I'm doing things in the community. I think I'm superintendent of the community, not just the school."
Patterson's commitment to her school and students reaches far beyond the confines of her office; she's interested in both how and where her students live. Where they live is Bibb County, a mid-city district in Georgia with an unusual bent: While many U.S. cities are losing their inhabitants to suburbia, Bibb's families-73 percent of whom are African-American-are staying put. For Patterson, Bibb's diversity necessitates intense community outreach. She's a member of the Macon Economic Development Commission, a nonprofit comprised of local business and government leaders who support education issues; and participates in the Center for Racial Understanding.
"While reading, writing and arithmetic are our core business, we have a responsibility to the community at large," she says, and her efforts haven't gone unnoticed: Patterson is one of three runners-up for the American Association of School Administrators' Superintendent of the Year awards, given this spring.
Good teaching stock: With an English teacher for a mother, a college professor for a grandfather and a previous inclination toward medicine, Patterson's life has been patterned on helping people. Teaching, she says, "is the notion of being a legacy builder. I think this work is about developing others."
Prideful ventures: Patterson credits the district's six-year evolution for helping draw attention to her and her work. From a redesigned central office, "raising the entire 'performance culture,' " winning over the public with a $0.01 tax increase to raise funds for the system, and a 20-point increase in SAT scores in 2005, it's not just one program that's made Bibb-and her-stand out.
What was in the AASA application? Patterson filled out the questionnaire herself, which was no small feat. "The application comes with six or seven questions; it really does cause you to take a deep breath and think, 'What have we been doing?' and look at yourself."
On earning her award: Patterson deftly deflected conversation about herself, admitting only that on the day she received her award, "For the first time, I was on stage, and I'm used to being in the background looking at the stage. ... that light can be blinding." The award gave her another sense of how important the work is that she's doing and that it's not done yet. "I have a responsibility to see that the work is sustained."
Membership has its privileges: Patterson's AASA award has jolted the pride of the overall community. "It's easy to look at the cracks in the sidewalk, but you have to raise your head. [The award has] raised confidence in the eyes of the community members."
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.