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Serving others is fuel for this school leader

Kelsey Pardue  |  April 15, 2020
This is our fourth installment in the “What is a DSQ?” blog series.
 
From an eager educator to a passionate coach, Zack Perfitt is a National Heritage Academies (NHA) leader who has a knack for serving and building the individuals around him.
 
Perfitt began his teaching career at Paragon Charter Academy in 2005 as a sixth-grade science and social studies teacher. Along the way to his current role as director of school quality (DSQ), a position he has held since 2016, he has worn a variety of hats, from teacher, to dean, to principal.
 
Being that he draws joy and purpose in boosting others, NHA is a natural fit for Perfitt. “I am grateful to work for a company that cares for people. At the end of the day, we make people-first decisions,” he shared.
 
What sets NHA apart in Perfitt’s eyes is the level of support school leaders are given. “The Service Center (NHA’s corporate headquarters) has countless departments leaders can use to support our school missions.”
 
In addition to the support resources, he values the relational capacity built in schools through the O3 model, or weekly one-on-one’s between an employee and their supervisor. These conversations serve as the primary avenue for ongoing performance reviews and foster a deeper level of trust and alignment between leaders and their team members. “I’ve had the same struggles as most of my team and, in my role now, I’m able to share the wisdom I’ve learned.”
 
When Perfitt makes decisions or provides feedback, he always puts himself in the other person’s shoes. “I ask myself, ‘how would that have impacted me as a teacher, dean, or principal?’ That helps me ask the right questions.”
 
Relating to others is not the only thing he is passionate about. Serving those around him and coaching them to be both healthy and smart in their positions is a primary focus for Perfitt. “My main purpose in life is to serve people and help them be the best that they can be,” he explained. “Being able to be in the schools and with the leaders to ensure they are successful is what I enjoy the most about my role.”
 
He works diligently to cultivate and foster an open and safe work environment for his teams, explaining, “If you go to work and you don’t trust the people you work with, you won’t want to go to work. Trust is key.”
 
What is it that builds a healthy team? Healthy individuals, according to Perfitt, who lives by the book called The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. This belief system is centered around three virtues that an ideal team player embodies: humility, hunger, and people smarts, hence the slogan, “humble, hungry, and smart.
 
Perfitt describes how each characteristic looks when put into practice by educators and school leaders. Humble means not trying to steal the show and having the balance of humility. Hungry entails having the drive to want to improve yourself, other people, and students. Smart doesn’t refer to academics but instead means to be socially smart. The example Perfitt uses is having the ability to have a conversation with a janitor yet jump right into speaking with the chief executive officer of an organization. Being smart is having the ability to gauge who you are talking to and have an open, honest conversation.
 
Perfitt looks for people with those three characteristics, and if they don’t have them, then makes it a point to coach them. “When you can see that full coaching cycle happen, it’s so rewarding. You know you’ve hired the right people and it makes a difference for the kids.”
 
What set the trajectory for his work as DSQ was a principal he interacted with during his first year in his role as a teacher. He noticed the level of care she had and the amount of progress she made, taking the school from a two-star to a four-star rating within one academic year. “She embraced the ‘let’s build this staff and look at coaching strategies.’ She owned it and it was fun to be a part of the journey.”
 
His supervisor, Jim DeKorne, senior director of school quality, shared what makes Perfitt standout as a DSQ, “Zack helps principals solve problems and move forward quickly. He has a deep knowledge of the principal role from his own successful stints for NHA at Paragon and Wake Forest, and he leverages that experience to help principals gain a fresh perspective on their work,” he explained.

DeKorne added that Perfitt is a planner, an organizer, and a doer, “As a recent example, as schools were being closed for the Covid-19 crisis and NHA was gathering ideas for how to accomplish learning remotely, Zack organized a group of DSQs, created an outline of work, and formulated a plan for remote learning.”

Perfitt supports eight of NHA’s North Carolina schools, including Greensboro Academy, Johnston Charter Academy, Matthews Charter Academy, Peak Charter Academy, Queen’s Grant Community School, Rolesville Charter Academy, Summerfield Charter Academy, and Wake Forest Charter Academy.
 
Stay tuned on May 20 for the next installment of our DSQ blog series when we introduce you to Staci Bennett, an NHA leader who built her career from humble roots and strives to inspire students to achieve their dreams.