f you were to drive past the newly named Kyrene de los Cerritos: A Leadership Academy in Ahwatukee, it would appear that nothing more than the name has changed. The school's exterior, like most Valley schools, still consists of stucco and brick, with an occasional window here and there. A weathered bike rack remains adjacent to the school and the spacious playground is filled with equipment that has endured the rough play of hundreds of students over the years. In fact, the large marquee that greets passers by as they drive in front of the school still reads "Kyrene de los Cerritos." Don't be fooled by its rather ordinary appearance on the outside, because when you open the office doors and enter the school itself, what you will see, hear and feel are quite extraordinary.

One such unique feature is a beautifully painted "leadership" tree that adorns one of the many front office walls. On the tree's branches are several hand-painted portraits of school-aged children, perhaps a symbol of the interdependent culture the school aims to create. True to its leadership model, the school's mission statement is written in black letters at the very center of the tree: Leaders of today inspiring leaders of tomorrow. Even more intriguing than the visual itself is the fact that several Cerritos staff members were collectively responsible for each brush stroke. It's safe to say that this was a true labor of love. The "leadership" tree is just one of the many aesthetically pleasing features that students and parents were greeted with as they toured the school on Meet The Teacher Night.

As a leadership consultant at Kyrene de los Cerritos: A Leadership Academy, my goal is to educate you, the community, by giving you an inside look at this new, innovative school model. During the next several months, we aim to capture the essence of student leadership development by giving the students themselves an opportunity to share their collective voice in a community forum such as this. Each article will highlight a leadership principle that Cerritos is using to develop a renewed sense of responsibility and ownership in each of their students' academic and personal success. Stay tuned for our first student-based article, which will attempt to answer an often asked question that serves as the foundation of everything we do at Cerritos: "What is leadership?"

Mike Sissel is a former Kyrene teacher who owns and operates AZ YELP, www.azyelp.com, a youth leadership organization aimed at providing students with life and leadership skills.

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