Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Supporting youths by helping community leaders

Jennifer Isaac (right), who works as a special education coordinator in a local school district, engages in discussion during a meeting of the Rochford Leadership Development Program at the YMCA of the East Valley. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

When Tim and Carol Rochford approached University of Redlands President Ralph Kuncl with the concept for the Rochford Leadership Initiative in 2016, their mission was twofold. First, their gift funded the creation of the Rochford College Access Program to serve low-income middle school students in the Redlands Unified School District with college-readiness programming. Second, it launched the Rochford Leadership Development Program to build the ability of leaders in the Redlands community to transform the lives of youth.

“The idea was that, if we’re going to really support these kids, we need to provide capacity building for their community members,” says Ann Blankenship Knox, a professor in the U of R School of Education and the program’s director.

Now in its inaugural year, the program has been engineered to help emerging community leaders become more reflective and aware of their own strengths and equip them with a greater understanding of educational systems and organizational health. While all of this year’s participants already hold leadership roles, Blankenship Knox says that anyone who works with kids in any capacity is a candidate for the program.

Along with Blankenship Knox and School of Education Dean Andrew Wall, this year’s 13 participants are meeting once a month for 10 months to discuss different topics within the realm of leadership, enhanced by assigned readings, session activities, personal assessments, and live case studies. Sessions are held at locations that relate to the topic the group is learning about. Thus far, participants have met at the University of Redlands, the Redlands Unified School District office, and the Burrage Mansion, with plans to meet at the YMCA of the East Valley and other regional school district buildings.

Dean Andrew Wall (right) meets with the inaugural cohort of the Rochford Leadership Development Program, including: (front row, left to right) Jenise Feinberg, Megan Wolfe, Amy Pry, and Alesha Knox, and (second row, left to right) Annie Knox, Arah Parker, Erica Moorer, Jennifer Isaac, and Cindy Rushing. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

Blankenship Knox notes the live case studies are a unique aspect of the program. Community leaders, such as superintendents, coaches, and department directors, talk to the group about real challenges they’re facing at work; participants have the opportunity to discuss the issues and offer advice to the speakers.

“Coincidentally, all the participants this year are women, so we’ve tried to get speakers to focus on the topic of women in leadership,” says Blankenship Knox. “But we’ve also focused on specific skills, such as change management, communication strategies, and stakeholder management. We want participants to think about how they can hone their craft as a leader.”

When the program ends in November, Blankenship Knox hopes participants will have built a strong network of people they can lean on and know they can ask for help with any issues or challenges they face.

“To me, the most important part of leadership is humility,” she says. “I’m hopeful that participants will approach their work from a more universal standpoint. Instead of approaching every issue the same way, they’ll be able to see it from multiple angles so they can consider different outcomes—not just the one they’re most comfortable with.”

Learn more about the Rochford Leadership Development Program.