Leadership Lunch & Learn with JW Carpenter

We are consistently growing and increasing our workload at Knight Eady with new and exciting partnerships, and we are also busy planning for an upcoming celebratory party. However, we still place a great emphasis on our culture and hold ourselves accountable for keeping this a priority. Our retreat at the lake at the end of August was a great opportunity for us to re-focus on our ‘WHY’ and recharge as we collaborated together on growing Knight Eady. We looked to the future with a focus on the foundation of our company, which centers around our Core Values. Maintaining our monthly Leadership Lunch & Learns has been a wonderful opportunity for us to continue to grow and learn, while also remaining invested in our community by learning how we can continue to serve this great place that we call home.

On September 1 our staff had the opportunity to host J.W. Carpenter, Executive Director of the Birmingham Education Foundation, at the Innovation Depot for a Leadership Lunch and Learn. We were very inspired by his words and the mission that he attempts to accomplish each and every day, which centers around increasing the number of students in the Birmingham City Schools that are on the path to college, career and life readiness. J.W. has committed a great portion to his life to providing exceptional educational opportunities to students in low-income communities, as he formerly served as the Executive Director of Alabama Teach for America.

In his current position, he clearly faces many challenges, but through making major changes through grassroots efforts to a small portion of students, he is able to measure his team’s work and know that it is successful. J.W. is committed to getting it right before he scales up. The Ed Foundation strives to serve the students in three ways: through academic support, through essential skill building-college and career access, and by providing them with a network of contacts and support. J.W. explained that Birmingham businesspeople and companies, including the Rotary Club, Regions Bank, Alabama Power, and UAB, have been extremely generous of their time and resources by providing the students with opportunities to gain experience in applying to colleges, conducting a job interview, and simply understanding their options. These students are accustomed to people doing things for them or to them, but not with them, and doing things with them is the best way we can help equip them for the future.

J.W. has a team of eight people that work for him, and as someone who is very involved in culture and hiring, it was interesting to hear about his staff selection process and the culture that they have developed in their office. They follow the book “Who: The A Method for Hiring,” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street when going through the interview and selection process, so that everyone has the same standard experience. They strongly communicate in the interview process that they have a culture of behavioral based feedback so that people know exactly what is expected of them. In addition, they have an extensive 90-day on-boarding process, share their Life Maps with one another, read books with very open and honest discussions, and place a great priority on diversity and inclusion. J.W. said that he has hired people that are all smarter than him, which shows that he has a lot of confidence in his people. Each day he asks himself, “What do my people need me from me to keep the ball rolling and how can I help them?” J.W.’s commitment to his staff and service to them is indicative of a great leader.

In our discussion, we asked a lot of questions related to how we can help the Education Foundation both personally, but also through our work. J.W. explained that being involved in sports has statistically proven that the student is more likely to be successful because of their involvement on a team. However, we need to encourage coaches and athletic directors to guide the students towards a plan beyond just athletics. If they do encounter an injury or don’t make it past high school (which is likely) then the students need to feel that they still have opportunities and their dreams don’t have to be shattered. There are many additional ways that our community can help the Ed Foundation including attending some of their Network meetings as a part of the Raise Up Initiative, which brings together students, teachers, parents, and businesspeople over one evening to try and solve needs that exist within the schools.

We really appreciate J.W.’s time in sharing with us more about his role and the Birmingham Education Foundation in general. I know that our whole staff felt inspired by the work he is doing, but it also served as a reminder that there are many students that need our help within one mile of our office.

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