Cultivating Hope in Education Amidst Crisis

Brian Gregory [00:00:01]:
Hi everybody, this is your host Brian for the Beyond Buildings podcast, where we meet innovative and inspiring facilities leaders from across the country. In this episode, I have the pleasure of chatting with Dr. CJ Huff, the former Superintendent of Joplin Schools. Dr. Huff is an amazing leader. He started off as a farmer in southeast Kansas and navigated his way to eventually become the Superintendent of Joplin schools.

Brian Gregory [00:00:21]:
In this episode, he shares insight on the significance of resilience and the impact of community engagement. Dr. Huff also delves into the challenges he faced, including leading during the tragedy of the Joplin tornado. He sheds light on the importance of understanding the needs of both students and staff and the crucial role that the facilities team played during that process. These days, Dr. Huff is traveling the world and helping organizations with disaster recovery and strategic planning. Believe me, you don't want to miss this one. Let's dive in.

Brian Gregory [00:00:48]:
Dr. CJ Huff, thank you so much for joining me this morning. And I can't wait to hear a little bit more about your background and story just for our audience. Before we get started here, tell us a little bit about what you have done in the past and what you're doing now.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:01:00]:
Okay, so I grew up in southeast Kansas and was actually kind of late bloomer into education. I was a farmer first. I farmed for about six, seven years right out of high school and continued working on going to college and finally kind of fell in love with my education major, graduated teaching degree in elementary education, started teaching third grade in Pleasanton, Kansas, and then got married and moved to Springfield, Missouri. Actually kind of come full circle because that's where I live now. And we got married, moved to Springfield, Missouri, got a teaching job up in Bolivar, Missouri. So then I spent the rest of my career in Missouri, kind of bouncing around as a classroom teacher initially, and then moved up into a principalship in a couple of different districts and then got my doctorate degree at University of Arkansas and got my first superintendency in Eldon, Missouri, and then had the opportunity in 2008 to get a little closer to home and to a larger district that met my career goals and landed in Joplin, Missouri in 2008 and was superintendent in Joplin from 2008 2015. So that was kind of my education background. Anyway.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:02:03]:
A lot of things have happened since then, but certainly that was kind of my career path.

Brian Gregory [00:02:07]:
That's great. Yeah.

Brian Gregory [00:02:08]:
My wife is actually an FFA advisor for five years now.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:02:12]:
He's an ag too. I got the state farmer award. That was the pinnacle of my high school. Yeah. Yeah.

Brian Gregory [00:02:17]:
We just bought a small amount of land and I've got a tractor, so that's kind of my happy.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:02:21]:
Good for you.

Brian Gregory [00:02:21]:
My happy place.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:02:23]:
You're ahead of me right now at this point. I've just got a half acre backyard with a lot of walnuts. Have to be picked up this time of year.

Brian Gregory [00:02:30]:
Okay. So you started off farming and kind of worked your way up the education side, the K-12 industry. When you look back at that part of your career, what were some of the, I guess, most challenging times? Or maybe also most rewarding times?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:02:42]:
Yeah, I mean, I can't say that there was ever a day in my entire education career, even on my darkest days, which we'll talk a little bit about that later, I'm sure. But some of the most challenging days of my career, that I wasn't excited to get up and go to work. I mean, I was a love kids. I love working with adults and just being around people, and I just loved the work things I saw. I think one of the things that really shaped me as an educator was my time when I was a principal in Springfield, Missouri, in the highest poverty school in the district, and about a 94, 96% for introduced lunch rate in that particular school. And just seeing the challenges of kids that come from poverty, extreme poverty, as well as some of the adult situations and how those families function and try to just survive day to day. And then really, from a leadership standpoint and from the standpoint of how to engage the community, one thing I will say about that particular school is that school community, as disadvantaged as those children were, and as much as that school community, struggled in that area because of the poverty and the crime and all those things that were kind of societal issues, just seeing how that community rallied to that school and how everybody came together and rallied around kids, around children and youth in that school was just amazing. I mean, there were some great things that were happening there.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:03:51]:
Our student achievement was pretty good in comparison to more affluent schools in the district. And our student attendance, actually, which is always a challenge in high poverty schools, was the highest in the district. We competed every month. We were looking at our numbers, and we were right there every month with the highest performing schools in the district. So that was really a great learning experience for me. The challenge, I didn't stay there very long, though. I was only there for two years. And part of that which I wasn't a dad yet, I didn't have children, my own yet.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:04:18]:
So I was dad to all these kids. And seeing how some of the most severe abuse and neglect situations I've ever encountered since and I had a lot of years after that working with kids and families happened right there in that particular school. And so I was taking that baggage home with me every night. And I'm ashamed to say it, but I just couldn't hardly deal with it when I had the opportunity to move on. And I wasn't really looking for a job, but one kind of came to me. I took advantage of that opportunity to go to a district that didn't have those kind of challenges, and we did a lot of a good instructional work. Most of my day was spent just making sure kids were in school, dealing with family services and things of that nature and abuse and neglect situations and things of that nature. And that wasn't why I got into the business.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:04:58]:
But I'll tell you what, experience probably did more to shape my career and my thinking. I could go back to that school today. I'd be a better principal, I think, and be able to stay there forever. But at the time, it was just a lot to take in as a new principal, for sure.

Brian Gregory [00:05:11]:

Brian Gregory [00:05:11]:
I mean, it's a formative time, right, in your career. How old were you at that time, CJ?

Brian Gregory [00:05:16]:
Oh, my gosh.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:05:17]:
Now you're really making me stretch here. I think I was, like 29 to 31, maybe in that range.

Brian Gregory [00:05:22]:
Pretty young to take on that type of load.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:05:24]:
Yeah. In fact, I think my oldest daughter, who's 23, she wasn't even born yet. I think when I left Weaver elementary school, my wife might have been pregnant at that time. Yeah, those are tough times.

Brian Gregory [00:05:34]:

Brian Gregory [00:05:34]:
Definitely gives you perspective. I'm sure it has influenced your leadership style and the way you address challenges going forward also. Just what a blessing to have educators out there that are in that environment every day, helping kids.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:05:47]:
They're the best. One of the things that came out of that, it's really started formulating my thinking about community engagement because I saw what a community could do. I mean, they were doing some really good things there, and there's poverty everywhere. You don't have that many schools that have, although there's more of them today than there were then, I think that were in that 90% plus range of poverty. And it's just a different animal to try to lead schools like that on a lot of different levels. And that whole school safety piece, climate and culture piece, that community engagement piece, the teaching and learning piece, all those things really challenge you. And so certainly a great opportunity for me to learn on the job, if you will, what that's like. And we did some great things, like I said, every day I got up, I was there to do everything I could to support those kids and families.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:06:32]:
But the resources it takes to support those types of school communities is pretty substantial to be able to do that. And the best way to do that, though, is to engage with what I learned was to have that whole community engaged and the families engaged in trying to support those kids. And that was probably my biggest takeaway from that experience, is how a school that, for all practical purposes, shouldn't have been as successful as it was. And the secret sauce, in my view, was just how some of the parent leaders in that school took ownership of that school and really drove the conversation and got people to the table, highly influential. And all I had to do, really, was back them up and support them in every way that I could so that they could influence families to stay involved and engaged in the education of the kids in that school community. So that was kind of cool.

Brian Gregory [00:07:17]:
Yeah, it was really cool. Maybe talk a little bit more, too, about. So you went from educator to principal, eventually superintendent. And obviously, each one of those comes with new rewards, but also new challenges. So what was it like entering the title of superintendent?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:07:31]:
Yeah, I think it's just like every new job you go in and you just have to kind of learn it. The biggest difference between being a superintendent and a principal, I would say two things. One, the politics of the job is very different. You spend a lot of time on the political side. I don't mean elected. Well, it is elected because you're dealing with school boards, but just the community politics. So every decision that you make at that level, whether you're bidding, it's a bank bid or insurance bid or buying a truck or a bus. I mean, everything's political.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:07:58]:
Insurance, everything's political. And so every decision you make, there's people that are perceived to be winners and losers, if you will, especially when you're talking about bidding things, that's always a challenge. But the other thing with that is that was really different than being a principal. That I liked was that as an issue surfaced at the building level, because when you're building principal, you're on the front line. I mean, when something hits, it hits you right there.

Brian Gregory [00:08:20]:

Dr. CJ Huff [00:08:20]:
You don't have time to really regroup. You're having to deal with the situation as it is right there. And so usually I would hear about that, and then I could collect all the information that I could. If I needed to call attorney, I could do that, and I could kind of get my ducks in a row. So I knew where we stood as a district, and so there was a buffer, if you will, between what was happening on the ground and what was happening in the central office. And it gave us an opportunity to be supportive, but yet to make sure the decision that was made at the building level was the right decision. We're once removed from the situation. That was kind of nice, but, yeah, it's certainly a different feel.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:08:53]:
But you just walk into those jobs, and if you're willing to work hard and you're willing to build relationships and work with folks, you'll figure it out. And I love that part of my job. But when I think about my career, I really love being an elementary principal. That was awesome. That was so much fun. I mean, I just love those kids and my teachers, and we really did a lot of good stuff in spite of the frontline challenges. But you're also on the day to day every day, seeing good things that were happening every day. So it was a lot of fun.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:09:20]:
I enjoyed it.

Brian Gregory [00:09:20]:

Brian Gregory [00:09:21]:
Sometimes the further up you go in the organization, you really only get involved when you need to for the. It can definitely color your vision.

Brian Gregory [00:09:27]:

Brian Gregory [00:09:28]:
And I've had the pleasure or displeasure, depending on the situation, of sitting in many school board meetings, and I can only imagine being the superintendent especially. So you mentioned you got out before COVID hit and all of that. But sometimes it's a no win situation, even if you try your best.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:09:43]:
Yeah. And I think that you go back to 2011, when the tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, that was something that wasn't expected. And one of those situations that fell on my lap on the front line, just boom, it's right there. And so going through that disaster response and recovery effort and the four years that followed that before I retired in 2015, those were, you talk about the best of times and worst of times. And again, there wasn't a day that I didn't get up, that I wasn't excited to go to work and try to do what I could to help folks. Even on my most difficult days. I got up every day with a smile on my face, and I was ready to go after it. But it was tough.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:10:19]:
It was hard on me. It was hard on my family. It was hard on my leadership team around me. I mean, that was a heavy lift for all of us. Our teachers, our support staff, our bus drivers, you name it. Everybody just kind of pitched in, and we did some really great things for kids and families and took pretty good care of one another for those first few years after the disaster. So really proud of what we were able to accomplish there.

Brian Gregory [00:10:38]:
From a logistics standpoint, CJ, how did you guys keep school in operation after that disaster?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:10:44]:
Yeah, that was tough. We were blessed. We had a couple of buildings that were available, just put in perspective for the listeners. On my 19 buildings, I had ten of them hit, six of them destroyed, including my high school, which had 2200 students, and the current technical education center, which was home to I don't know how many students, but it supported a bunch of districts in the area, so it was large. And my largest elementary school was hit, brand new middle school. I think we were just finishing up second or third year and it was hit and destroyed. And so we had just a lot of kids displaced in terms of educational space days. So we were able to open up one of our middle schools that we kind of, we hadn't boarded up, that we weren't using it like we had been.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:11:21]:
And so we were able to reopen it. We were able to put our 9th and 10th graders there, and we got a 100,000 square foot box store at North park mall that we were able to build out for our 11th and 12th graders. And actually that project, I was really proud of it. We started swinging hammers in that facility and 67 days later we opened it up and got kids in there. And it was a fantastic facility. In fact, it won the international award for school design that year. And it was just a fantastic space that really gave us an opportunity to kind of test drive some concepts for our new high school, which was cool. And then we just did the best we could.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:11:57]:
We found an industrial spec building. It was out in the industrial park east of town. And so we lost the East Middle school. And so we kind of renamed it Far east because it was Far east. And so it was an industrial spec building, had nothing but no windows. It looked like just a big metal shed, basically. No windows, no air conditioning, had gravel on the floor. When we walked in and checked it out in that same time period, we built that out to a really nice facility for us for three years.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:12:25]:
That worked out well for us, so we just did what we had to do. We had some modular units too. We opened up another elementary school that had been boarded up for a few years and did our best to. It wasn't an ideal situation, I'll tell you that, but our teachers and our principals and the community really rallied and I think made those years pretty special for our kids until we get our new schools built.

Brian Gregory [00:12:46]:
That's amazing.

Brian Gregory [00:11:57]:
Yeah, I guess, like, jumping a little further into this whole topic. We had the chance to speak with a lot of facility managers across the country, a lot of K-12 facility managers, but we don't really hear the perspective from the superintendent of how they view facilities or how they view their team, their facilities leaders. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that, too. What was the relationship like with your facilities director?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:13:07]:
Yeah, well, first of all, in terms of my philosophy on facilities, that's a huge part of culture and climate. If your schools are dingy or if your lights aren't, halls aren't well lit and classrooms aren't well lit, if there's cobwebs in the corners that nobody seems to care about, if you're not taking care of maybe some vandalism, if you don't take care of those type of issues, broken windows, all those things. It says something about the district, says something about the community, and says something about my opinion, says something about leadership in that community. And so, oddly enough, when I go into a district, when I was superintendent, that was the first thing I started looking at was facility cleanliness. And are they clean, are they well maintained, are they good learning environments? And if they're not, then we've got a problem. That's basic instructional leadership 101, that quality of facility matters. So if HVAC systems aren't working or you don't have HVAC, those are all things that matter. And it impacts morale of staff, it impacts the morale of the students.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:14:02]:
And really, when you're a steward of taxpayer dollars, those facilities are the taxpayer's investment. As your school goes, so goes your community. And so we've got to take care of our facilities. So, yeah, that was just from a cultural standpoint. When I was building principal, I felt the same way about my school that was so important. And I used to walk the building once a week with my lead custodian, and we'd walk it once a week. And I had a checklist of things that I looked for that were important to me. The cleanliness of the halls.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:14:01]:
I was always a stickler on corners. My mom and my grandma, my grandma was German, and we cleaned. I mean, talk about spring cleaning. Oh, my gosh, that was every weekend we did spring cleaning at home. When I was a kid, there was no cartoons until the house was. Cleanliness was always something that was important to us. I carried a lot of that to that. So I was always looked at those corners and they knew, I mean, they knew that the corners had to be clean, and so they paid a lot of attention to that.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:14:51]:
And it's an attitude, I guess, if you will, about how we take care of that, especially your custodial staff, helping them understand the important role. Sometimes I think they're left out of that conversation about how important their role is in terms of instruction, teaching and learning and just creating that initial climate and culture that when people walk into your school, they're like, wow, this is a nice space. And it doesn't matter how old the building is, there's no excuse for a building to not be clean, not being taken care of. There's no excuse for that. So that's kind of the approach that we took. That was my attitude towards that, my relationship with our facilities managers in both schools, every district I ever worked in, whether it was as a building principal, I had a relationship with a district facilities manager, or when I was a superintendent, where I was responsible for all that, had a great relationship with them. And I worked alongside them as closely as I did my curriculum, instruction specialists. I mean, it was just, they were part of the team.

Brian Gregory [00:14:51]:
Great, I guess, kind of moving on from there. So you mentioned your last superintendent job wrapped up. Was it 2015, 2016? 2015, so what are you up to now?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:15:52]:
Yeah, so a lot. I do a lot of work in the disaster recovery space starting in 2017, really. I started doing some work with the US Department of Health and Human Services as contract support. And so they call me and anytime there's a presidentially declared disaster and FEMA starts to get engaged, they work with a lot of different agencies and departments in the federal government. They're the lead. And so they work with US Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for everything, including even education in schools. The hierarchy that they know, they look at children and youth issues as a part of their wheelhouse and a disaster, and the US Department of Education, during a disaster reports to HHS. So they started calling me to deploy me out to various disasters.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:16:34]:
So after Hurricane Harvey, I was down working on the Gulf coast for about eight months, supporting schools and a recovery effort. And then they liked what I did there enough. They thought maybe I could go to Puerto Rico and help out there. So I went to Puerto Rico for nine months after Maria, then a couple months in Florida after Hurricane Michael. And then I don't know if you remember, the paradise wildfire out in Butte County, California, just devastated that community in just minutes. And so they sent me out there to work on that project. Did a lot of work with COVID during COVID. A lot of similarities in disaster recovery, natural disaster versus COVID, and just the recovery process and some of the challenges, the communication challenges, the staff morale and the whole recovery leadership thing, the patterns are very similar. And then most recently, I've been doing work on tornado recovery, both in Wyn, Arkansas.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:17:22]:
They lost their high school on March 31 this year, and then in South Delta, Mississippi. I've just started engaging with them and working with them a little bit. And I'll probably be going out to Maui in the next few months to spend some time there supporting the recovery as well. So my life, that's not why I got into the education business, but I've kind of fallen in love with this work simply because it's an opportunity to help kids and communities recover. Because again, as I said earlier, as your school goes, so does communities. So if we get our schools rebuilt, and I see this after every disaster, schools are central to the community's recovery and healing. And invariably people will say, if it weren't for the schools, we wouldn't be where we are. It's so important to get those schools up and operational again.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:18:03]:
And being able to help support communities get their schools back up on their feet has been a real blessing.

Brian Gregory [00:18:08]:
That's really great. And what an inspiring line of work, too, CJ. I mean, kind of taking that knowledge that you have, unfortunately, hard gained knowledge and sharing that with those that need it the most. One of the questions I would have for you, too, it's one thing to get the facilities back in order, but how do you deal with kind of the cultural impact on the community, on staff, on students? Did you address that as well?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:18:02]:
That's tough. I made some mistakes. I made some real serious mistakes when I was superintendent in Joplin. And I'm very open. I share what those mistakes were when I talked to school leaders. And the number one thing, I think that school leaders need to know when they're going through a crisis. And they probably can reflect on this because we've all had this common experience with COVID Now you go through these various phases, and there's the impact phase where the disaster crisis hits, and then there's a heroic phase where we put on our Superman/Superwoman capes and we're like out there in front leading the charge. And you can see that everywhere after disaster, Joplin's strong, Puerto Rico Strong, Texas strong.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:19:09]:
I, every disaster I've ever been in, I see that kind of messaging where people are like, we got this. We're going to pull together. We're going to pull this off. And so people on the front end, they tend to burn. It's like running the sprint, and then you're on adrenaline that only lasts for so long. And so then you go through this real short period that when you're in a leadership position, there's nothing you can do really wrong. Everybody's like, keep up the good work. Proud of you.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:19:30]:
Thanks for doing what you're doing. And unfortunately, that window for that honeymoon phase is very short. And then people get tired and cranky, and that includes leaders. We're exhausted. We come to the realization that this recovery effort is not something that's going to be over in a few months. And, in fact, it might be a year or two and maybe even more, but you can't even see the finish line. And so it really becomes demoralizing at that point. And I think when I talk to leaders in that particular phase is referred to as a disillusionment phase, where people are like, gosh, we thought this was going to be over with quick.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:19:09]:
Well, whose fault is that? Well, it must be the leader's fault because we're not making as much progress as we should. The mistake I think I made is that during that phase in particular, I should have taken off my superman cape at that point. And sometimes you forget because you just get in that mode of going 100 miles an hour, and it becomes just a part of your daily life, daily routine. And so through that disillusionment phase, I continued to go 100 miles an hour, as did my team. And burnout, exhaustion, frustration. I mean, that kind of creates cracks in the foundation of everything you'd laid culturally prior to that. The real challenge, I think, for leaders is to, one, understand when they hit that disillusionment phase. And then two, remember to take off that Superman cape, take a step back and spend more time instead of being out in front and talking and leading the charge, take a step back, sit down with the people that you're leading, and spend more time listening and less time talking.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:20:52]:
And that's where I made my mistake. I continue to try to lead the charge, encourage people that significant hill on the battlefield of recovery. And the end result was that when I got to the top of that hill, which we did in 2014, we got all our schools rebuilt. You look behind you, and there wasn't a whole lot left to anybody, including myself. We just worked ourselves into the ground. And so I think we could have got there. We still could have opened our schools probably on time and got everything rebuilt. But I think there were a lot of things I could done differently to encourage people's hearts and minds and support them in their healing journey.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:21:26]:
As we went through that disillusionment phase, which was challenging.

Brian Gregory [00:21:30]:
We got there.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:21:31]:
We got there. We did the right thing. If I go back and do it all over again, certainly there'd be some things that I do differently. But for the most part, I'm proud, and I think everybody in our community is proud of what we were able to accomplish as a school district.

Brian Gregory [00:21:42]:
That's huge. I think that's something that's also just not intuitive. For folks to back off a little.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:21:46]:
Bit and reflect, it's not natural.

Brian Gregory [00:21:49]:

Brian Gregory [00:21:49]:
And if you're in the leadership position, typically that means that you have a strong drive, strong work ethic. And when something is outside of your control, the answer is, let's just work harder.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:20:51]:
Absolutely right. That's what I did. Literally, this went on for. I mean, like I said, there wasn't much left to me, and this goes for my team, a lot of my staff, but I was working 16, 20 hours a day, and even when I slept, I was thinking about work that went on for several years. It was brutal. It was brutal. I think a lot of our leaders out there who might be listening probably could relate to what I just shared, to their own experience related to this COVID recovery.

Brian Gregory [00:22:29]:

Brian Gregory [00:22:29]:
All right, well, maybe keep on moving here. One of the things I wanted to get into, so correct me if I'm wrong, you're the founder of this organization, I believe, but Bright Futures USA, do you want to speak a little bit about that?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:22:28]:
Yeah. So, Bright Futures USA was actually born in Joplin. We started that work prior to the disaster, and it was really based on a lot of the experiences, personal experiences that I shared earlier and working with children, families, and community to support our kids that struggle the most. And so Bright Futures was created as a part of an effort locally to improve our graduation rates. When I got Joplin in 2008, the on time graduation rate was 62%, which was worse than the state of Missouri, worse than inner city Kansas City, or inner city St. Louis. I mean, it was very bottom of the barrel, and so the school board wanted us to do something about it, and so we went through a strategic planning process, identified some of the things we wanted to do, and one of the things that kind of came out of that was the need to engage our faith community, our human service agencies, and our business community in partnership with our schools and our parents to really engage in a meaningful way. And really, that's kind of what planted the seed for what ultimately became Bright Futures.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:23:31]:
So, Bright Futures not to spend a lot of time on it. But there are three pillars of the work. There's meeting kids basic needs within 24 hours, and we have a system of support that we've built around that that works very, very well. We've got the second pillar, which is about building local leadership and resource capacity. And the third pillar is service learning kids the opportunity to give back to communities that are giving to them and Bright Futures, currently, we work with about 70 plus communities in eight states. I'm in Little Rock, Arkansas right now, which is one of our communities. We work with about 26 communities in Arkansas, 30 or so in Missouri, and then a number of other states, including Fairbanks.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:24:07]:
Alaska is one of our communities. I love my folks in Fairbanks. They're doing some great work out there, but really just bringing the community together to see how we can problem solve these issues, some challenges that are facing our children and youth, and then working with the community to create new opportunities for kids that didn't exist, whether it's apprenticeship opportunities or mentorship opportunities, career pathway exploration, you name it. It's really how can we take the work that we do to support our kids basic needs and leverage that to build relationships, to bring on more partners, to create other new, more meaningful opportunities so we can change life outcomes for these kids, improve life and academic outcomes. We can do that. We're doing a pretty good job as a school community, taking care of our kids and changing the culture of our community. So proud of that work. And if anybody wants to learn more about that, they can just go out to shameless plug

Brian Gregory [00:24:55]:

Dr. CJ Huff [00:24:55]:
Thanks, CJ.

Brian Gregory [00:24:56]:
Yeah, if anybody wants to help, is there a way they can help? Obviously they can look at the information.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:24:52]:
But if, yeah, there's really nothing too. For most of the states we work in, it's one time $3,000 affiliation fee to get involved with our work. We turnkey provide all the training, resources and support to get out of the ground, and then you become a part of our Bright Futures family. And the strength of our organization is our network of communities, and we learn from one another. So that's the beauty of our work, is that we want to keep all the resources local, and we want to help communities find ways to problem solve those issues and work with our community partners to do that. And we work with very small rural districts to some pretty large urban districts, and the framework seems to work everywhere we go. So yeah, just go out the website and learn more there. And if anybody's interested in working with us, love to partner and help you guys, support your kids.

Brian Gregory [00:25:43]:
That's great.

Brian Gregory [00:25:44]:
All right, well, I want to be respectful of your time, but I typically end each episode just with some advice. And you've already given some really great advice. But if you think about other experiences you've had and you think about k twelve leaders, it could be a superintendent, it could be a facilities leader. What parting advice would you give for those looking to kind of enter that role?

Dr. CJ Huff [00:26:02]:
If there's folks that are interested in becoming, whether it's a building level leader or a superintendent, my best advice is just do it. Is the nike theme there? I guess I think the most important thing is from a leadership standpoint, one of the lessons, many lessons I've learned is, number one, always maintain your sense of humor. You got to find humor. Even in your darkest days, try to find something to smile about. The other thing, too, is make sure that as a team, as you're leading, that you take time to celebrate the successes. As you work through various challenges, also take time to celebrate successes. And then probably the most valuable leadership lesson I ever learned actually came by way of my grandma. Just before I started my first assistant principal job.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:26:43]:
She sent me a letter. My grandma sent me a letter and congratulating me on handwritten. It was just sweet. And she sent me this handwritten letter saying, just tell me how proud she was I was going to be a principal. And she offered this one piece of advice. She goes from a leadership standpoint, just remember this. So the wise man takes in the lay of the land before he puts his hand to the plow. And I've carried that with me everywhere I've gone, is that you just don't jump in with both feet and start working.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:27:07]:
You need to really understand the community, the culture of the community, what the challenges are that exist, and then navigate your path forward from there. And that's the message that she shared with me. And I always share that message with school leaders, especially new ones, so that they can have that. So from the wisdom of my grandma, I think I probably learned more about leadership in that one sentence than any class ever took in college or even for my doctorate program.

Brian Gregory [00:25:43]:
Yeah, that's great. And take that into account sometimes. About the humor. One of the things that we started doing here at FMX once Covid hit, and it was kind of a stressful time, I incorporated a dad joke at every all company meeting. So one small thing, it's a good way to keep myself humble, too.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:27:50]:
That's funny. There's a group in Tennessee that I work with and we do a call every week. And the leader of that group, he ends the meeting. Every meeting with a dad joke. Seriously, it's funny. It's a great way to do it.

Brian Gregory [00:28:05]:

Dr. CJ Huff [00:28:05]:
Have a good laugh.

Brian Gregory [00:28:06]:
Yeah, I guess I'll go ahead and drop it on you then, because we're about ready to have our all company meeting in about 20 minutes. If you don't laugh, then I'll have to change it really quick.

Brian Gregory [00:28:14]:

Dr. CJ Huff [00:28:14]:
No, I'm sure it'll be a good one.

Brian Gregory [00:27:49]:
Yeah. So what did the one nut say to the other nut that he was chasing? I'm gonna cashew.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:28:23]:
Yeah, that's a good six out of ten. Is there ever really a dad joke? That's a ten out of ten. No, they get worse. In fact, it probably needs to be a blow five to be a true dad joke.

Brian Gregory [00:28:38]:
Well, CJ, thanks so much for your time.

Dr. CJ Huff [00:28:40]:
Appreciate what you guys do. Thank you.

Creators and Guests

Brian Gregory
Brian Gregory
Brian is the founder and CEO of FMX, a leading provider of facilities and maintenance management software.
Dr. CJ Huff
Dr. CJ Huff
CJ Huff is a leader with 20 years of experience working in public education. He has worked with some of the greatest educators and community leaders in the country. Together, they problem-solved and overcame obstacles to create new and dynamic opportunities for our nation's youth and future workforce.
Cultivating Hope in Education Amidst Crisis
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