Empathy for All
“Every day on my way home from work I ask myself one question: ‘Did I do anything today that affected the life of one child positively?’” says Rock Hill (S.C.) Public Schools Superintendent Lynn B. Moody.
So it’s no surprise that when Moody’s fellow administrators are asked about her they mention her extraordinary empathy and her ability to create mindful programs to serve the district’s most struggling students. It’s those students who Moody is most interested in helping; perhaps because the energetic superintendent with a hearty laugh and youthful southern drawl saw some of herself in those kids.
In college, she had a dedicated study ethic to get good grades, while friends around her went to parties. “I’m a perfect example of a little girl who grew up in a small tobacco community with 57 people in my graduating class,” says Moody, who has a hard time recalling numbers and details from memory. The daughter of two educators, she believes life is hard, so “having an advocate for you in life is one of the most important things.” Moody’s advocate was her grandmother.
The Road to Rock Hill
Moody started teaching students in Virginia Beach, and then moved around schools in Henderson, Hillsborough, and Raleigh, N.C., before settling in Rock Hill. Active in the community, she’s been an adjunct professor at nearby Winthrop University; she’s on the board of the local YMCA; and she holds a key to the city from Rock Hill’s Mayor Doug Echols.
She has created innovative programs that help students who might go to school hungry, or need a non-traditional setting, or to help them succeed academically and in their home life. “A child must be balanced in three areas to thrive: education, health, and spirit,” says Moody.
Moody is also a member of the District Administration Leadership Institute (DALI). She says she gets the most out of her membership from DA’s tweets (twitter.com/da_magazine) for how they connect her with educators across the country, and enlighten her about how they handle the positives and negatives in their districts.
In 2003, when Moody was Rock Hill district’s associate superintendent of planning and program support, she helped launch The Phoenix Academy. The academy is a non-traditional teaching program housed at the district’s Flexible Learning Center that gives students in grades 8 through 12 a flexible schedule within a hybrid learning environment.
Combining online and in-person courses, Phoenix serves students who wish to graduate early and take additional required classes; those who need a flexible schedule because they have children or work; students with anxiety disorders and other medical issues; or because they need to retake courses. “A self-paced curriculum lends itself to differentiated instruction and gives students the one-on-one attention to allow them to catch up with their peers,” Moody says.
The district also offers the Renaissance Academy, an alternative setting similar to Phoenix, for students who risk not graduating due to discipline issues.
Setting the Tone
Moody became superintendent in August 2006 when she took over for Randy Bridges, for whom she worked in Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, N.C., as director of workforce development. Shortly after Bridges became superintendent at Rock Hill in 2002, Moody was hired as associate superintendent. Four years and a doctorate degree later, Moody was promoted when Bridges left.
Moody wanted to create a new district vision. At the kickoff meeting of the 2007 school year, she asked employees what the “Rock Hill Professional Code” should be.
A survey sent to every staff member gave birth to about 500 ideas. It includes: 1) putting students first; 2) nurturing all relationships; 3) growing professionally; 4) working together for a shared vision; and 5) continuously finding ways to improve.
“At the time, [creating the code] seemed terribly important,” says Moody, but it proves most valuable during the district’s financial crisis in 2010, when Board of Trustees President Jim Vining says the district’s budget went from $130 million to $115 million. “[Lynn’s] best performance as a superintendent was balancing the budget and dealing with the revenue shortfalls,” he says.
In the 2007-2008 school year, Moody launched Back-The-Pack, her weekend food program ensuring that some of the most vulnerable elementary and middle school students, who receive free and reduced-price lunch, get food whether or not they are in school. “Food kits,” or gallon-size plastic baggies filled with snacks, are assembled by high school students in Rock Hill’s “Material Handling & Logistics 1” class, and distributed to younger students every Friday afternoon, placed discreetly in students’ backpacks. It’s funded through donations and community businesses and service organizations. “She set out to assure that not only are these students receiving a healthy meal during the week at school…but also having access to healthy snacks during the weekend,” says Don Gillman, director of the Applied Technology Center where the material class is held.
The program serves 710 students weekly, and last year was a key factor in Rock Hill’s being named one of the country’s 100 Best Communities for Young People by the America’s Promise Alliance, presented by ING bank, for how the district cares for its young people.
“I think she wants every child to succeed, and I think it’s a real disappointment [to her] when any child does not,” says Vining. “I’ve [worked with] three superintendents, and the empathy she has for all people in need...is definitely way off the chart.”
Lynn B. Moody
- Superintendent, Rock Hill (S.C.) School District
- Tenure: 7 years
- Students: 17,300
- Staff and faculty: 2,194
- Schools: 27 schools; nine special centers
- Per-child expenditure: $8,486
- Dropout rate: 4% (2011)
- Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch: 54%
- Demographics: 52% white; 36% African-American; 6% Hispanic/Latino; 2% Asian; 1.5% American Indian
- Website: www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us