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Believing in Others Makes All the Difference for This School Leader

Kelsey Pardue  |  July 15, 2020
This is our seventh installment in the “What is a DSQ?” blog series.
 
A chance encounter negotiating a carpet purchase for her home kick-started Amy Ebling’s teaching and leadership career.
 
Who knew that 17 years ago when Ebling, director of school quality (DSQ) at National Heritage Academies (NHA), first moved to Detroit, having confidence and strong communication skills while buying carpet would perk the ears of a fellow educator, who subsequently invited her for a school tour that ended in a teaching position?
 
She accepted the teaching position at Walton Charter Academy, and Ebling realized the opportunity educators have to change the futures of the students they serve. “I was working with students who needed me as much as I needed them. In just a few weeks, I found my calling and fell in love,” she shared.
 
Ebling worked her way from teacher, to middle school coordinator, to school administrator, to principal, and now DSQ. “It took someone seeing something in me that I didn’t quite see in myself,” she said.
 
Someone seeing something in her propelled Ebling to lead by believing that all students are capable of exceptional things. “Students are only going to achieve what we hold them accountable to achieving,” she said. “Students will meet whatever bar we set for them and so often it’s lower than what they’re capable of. There is immense value in providing and fostering a community of collaboration and learning.”
 
Cultivating the belief within adults and students that they are capable of whatever they hold themselves and each other to is a passion area for her. Creating a learning community of leaders among her schools and ensuring that NHA’s promise is being delivered is vital for Ebling. Just like a linchpin acts as a fastener to keep a wheel in position, she sees herself as the linchpin for the principals in her network. Six schools fall under Ebling’s portfolio including Burton Glen Charter Academy, Laurus Academy, Linden Charter Academy, North Saginaw Charter Academy, Oakside Scholars Charter Academy, and Walton Charter Academy.
 
What sets NHA apart for Ebling is the “behave with care” mindset and the student-first mentality.  “We’re always asking ourselves as school leaders, ‘What’s best for kids?’” she said. “At NHA, it’s high care with high accountability. It’s not top-down leadership, it’s a place of high care. We put the bar high because that’s what our kids deserve. That’s what drives us.”
 
The “behave with care” mentality remains consistent through all circumstances. With Flint being where a handful of her schools reside, Ebling is proud of the way leaders have pulled together to make sure the needs of their students and school community are met. For example, leaders from a sister school drove through a snowstorm to deliver cases of water to those in need during the Flint Water Crisis.
 
“The crisis showed the beauty and strength of NHA as an organization and the importance of strong leadership during adversity,” said Ebling. “School leaders were leading with a sense of urgency and empathy and understanding.”
 
Ebling has the foundational belief that relationships have to be first. “I don’t care whether it’s a student or an adult, no one cares how much you know more than how much you care,” she said. “The ability to connect with a person is where change becomes more rapid.”
 
As educators and leaders at NHA, Ebling sees it as a blessing to show students what’s possible. “We are here to be someone that believes in them and to be their champion. That’s us,” she said.
 
Ebling reflects on the past six years in her role as DSQ and what stands out most is the difference a school can make when they cultivate relationships and have a strong vision. She shared how grateful she is to be able to interact with countless families, students, and communities. “God saw something bigger within me, and NHA has been such a blessing to me,” said Ebling. “I feel that working at NHA has given me the ability to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.”
 
Stay tuned on Aug. 19 for the next installment of our DSQ blog series when we introduce you to Nancy Kouba, a Michigan leader who focuses on authenticity to make connections with her staff to inspire growth.