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Community Crash Course: Leadership Springfield program targets mid- to upper-level execs

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Leadership Springfield’s model for the past 34 years has centered on nine-month classes. The organization’s newest offering can be completed in just two days.

Access Class, which will be held for the first time Feb. 27-28, is designed as an opportunity for mid- to upper-level managers new to the community or looking to expand professional connections to gain an inside glance of the Queen City, said Carrie Richardson, Leadership Springfield executive director.

“This is not a full, in-depth exploration of every industry and sector of the community like we take our nine-month classes on,” she said. “What we’re doing in Access is really a crash course in the community.”

The class will take place quarterly, with its size capped at 60 participants, and acceptance is based on the date of application and receipt of a $500 fee, Richardson said. The payment covers all materials, meals, transportation, speakers and venues.

Richardson said the Access curriculum is designed with classroom discussions, guest speakers and on-site visits to local businesses for tours and presentations. A family reception to incorporate spouses and children also is slated at the end of the first day of class. She said 20 participants are currently signed up, and registration closes Feb. 22.

Target audience
Richardson started in July with Leadership Springfield, which became a fully independent organization that same month after more than three decades as an affiliate program with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Its other programs, Signature Class, Leadership Springfield Academy and Principals of Leadership, all follow a nine-month model. Together, the three programs have nearly 2,000 alumni.

Leadership Springfield’s board had discussed the two-day program for several years, Richardson said, but conversations with City Utilities’ officials finally moved the program forward.

“They saw a need for their leadership to better understand the community in general,” Richardson said. “City Utilities works with every industry, they work with every business, they work with every household. A better understanding of the community overall helps their managers and their leaders be more effective at their jobs.”

Gary Gibson, associate general manager of customer operations and communications at CU, said utility staff members have participated in the Signature Class. However, he said the quarterly offering of Access Class would bolster opportunities for all companies, noting CU plans to have around 10 employees in middle to upper management in this month’s class, as well as the next one scheduled for May.

“I think it’s going to be a great program for Springfield,” he said, adding it will serve as a complement to the utility company’s internal program, Leadership CU.

Gibson was part of Leadership CU’s first class in 2014, as well as Signature Class 32 in 2017.

Arvest Bank is on board as a class sponsor and also plans to have representation in the inaugural Access Class, said Mandy Anthes, a commercial banker.

“It aligns with our culture and our goals,” said Anthes, who also serves as vice president of Leadership Springfield’s executive committee. “Local connections and community engagement are at our core.”

Anthes said the class should provide local businesses with another tool to assist with worker retention and talent attraction – particularly those mid-to C-level executives and licensed professionals new to the community.

“If they don’t stay because they don’t find connections here, then that costs you as an employer,” Richardson said. “So, this program is ideal for employers who have people they recruit from out of town who are getting settled in the community.”

Tailored programs
One employer that annually welcomes new faces is Springfield Public Schools, which has over 4,100 employees, according to Springfield Business Journal research. Of that number, Richardson said roughly 200 are new teachers each year. She said SPS approached Leadership Springfield last year about having a version of Access Class tailored specifically for newer teachers.

“We’re helping to get them acclimated to the community, so that’s a win for SPS,” she said, adding two cohorts of 45 participants each will be held annually.

The first SPS teachers’ class is set for March.

Nicole Holt, director of learning development at SPS, said the district is targeting teachers in their second year with the class offered in the fall, while next month’s will be offered to any SPS teacher with more than three years of experience in the classroom. She said the district wants to continue getting first-year teachers acclimated to the classroom.

“That’s the model we’ll use moving forward,” Holt said. “This gives them an opportunity to network in the walls beyond the district. The more connected they are in the community, the more likely they are to stay here and serve kids in our school system.”

Richardson said for CU and SPS, Access Class serves as a way to reach a wider group of employees than the Signature Class could.

“They’re identifying that there’s groups of people they can help basically provide continuing education for,” she said. “We’re providing that continuing education. It’s a community course.”

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