The other Michael Moore says faith fuels his strength for school leadership
It must be tough being named Georgia's top administrator in 2004, having a Georgia General Assembly resolution in 2002 claiming you're the best thing since sliced bread for children, and still having to explain you're not that Michael Moore. This Michael Moore, the leader of Effingham County (Ga.) Schools, has nothing in common with the controversial filmmaker.
The closest comparison between the superintendent and the filmmaker is a history of activism in schools. That's right. The Academy Award winner, at age 18, won a seat on the Flint, Mich., school board. The similarities end there.
J. Michael Moore, with the J for Jacob after his father, has a southern drawl, goes to church, and teaches Sunday school. He says his role models are Billy Graham--"He keeps the faith; he has a strong conviction"--and the late Pres. Ronald Reagan. Then there's the filmmaker, whose latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, mocks President Bush and his pro-war stance.
"Occasionally, someone says something about [the name]," Moore says. "They ask me if I have the same political leanings as the other Michael Moore. I tell them that from what I know of his political leanings, I'm not like him at all."
Local Boy Does Good
Michael Moore pours love, sweat and laughs into his hometown, where he's spent his entire career. He taught math at his former high school and was an assistant principal before being elected superintendent at age 25. Since 1977, the leader has watched student enrollment triple and been elected four more times.
Moore has also jump-started the district's stalling engines. Roofs once leaked, academics suffered and teachers were sparse. Moore, whose leadership position is now an appointed one, has increased teacher salaries, encouraged students to pursue future teaching careers with the district and implemented new academic programs.
"Not chasing fads ... has caused us to make improvements in test scores," says Moore, noting that only one of his schools did not make AYP this past year (due to the math scores of special education children).
The sweating is sweet now. The American Association of School Administrators named him Georgia's Administrator of the Year in 2004. Given by a group of his peers, the honor humbled him, Moore says.
It makes sense to Herbert Garrett, executive director of Georgia School Superintendents Association, the state charter of AASA. "Michael is the dean of Georgia superintendents," Garrett says. "The district he leads is a sleepy, rural district rapidly turning into a suburban district outside of Savannah. ... Michael has steadied the ship and led a very successful educational effort in Effingham County."
Oh, and, he adds, "Michael comes as far from that other Michael Moore as anyone you'd want to see."
Faith Keeps Moore Intact
Moore finds peace as an elder at his church. "I believe that [faith] has allowed me to remain in this job for so long without losing my mind," Moore says. "I have over 1,300 employees; I deal with the public every day. ... Through my faith I've been able to be strong and live without undue stress. ... If you are going to lose sleep [over work problems] and you're going to worry, you can't stay in this job; it will kill you."
Parting Thoughts on the Superintendency
The job is "sort of like a calling to me. ... And I really care about our kids and our community," says Moore, who has two daughters with his wife of 31 years. "Because of that caring, I have worked hard to get good people in the right places to see kids get a good education."
Angela Pascopella is features editor.