North Carolina Department of Correction News - March 1999

DOC managers juggle duties to attend training

Sitting in meetings can be a chore, but Helen Harriger had never before been in one like this. Consultants directed the Western Youth Institution assistant superintendent to lead the meeting and gave her the topic one second before it started.

Harriger led the discussion of three classmates, while two others prepared to critique the session and a third noted decisions on a flip chart. Consultant Jeff Schwartz called time, and the class launched into a debate about the dynamics of the meeting, Harriger's leadership, ways to control the discussion and ways to get everyone involved. Trainers in the department’s new correction management training program use these exercises to apply the ideas they discuss in class.

The program’s 23 participants have been hard at work since August. They say the program is challenging. They also say it has helped them develop new skills and new insights into the agency.

"In terms of leadership development and management training, this is the most ambitious project that has been undertaken in the last 25 years in American corrections," said Schwartz, president of Letra, Inc, the consultants who helped design and lead the program. "The department’s commitment in terms of time and resources and the commitment of the participants in this program is extraordinary and difficult for a lot of people and for the department, but, ultimately, it will prove very meaningful."

While still performing the duties of their full-time jobs, the managers are spending one-third of their work hours for nine months in the program. The time they’ve devoted to the program in classes, projects and mentoring tours can be compared to one and one-half semesters in a graduate level college course.

"It’s hard juggling your day-to-day duties with your regular job and then you come here for a week and you mentor for four days," said E.A. Christofferson of Correction Enterprises. "When you come back, all your work is piled up on your desk. It takes some time to get caught back up. Then by the time you’re caught up, you’ve got to go on your next mentoring program. It’s a cycle."

The most popular part of the training has been the mentoring sessions. At this point, each participant has spent time with at least three senior managers.

"These programs help us to learn different management styles," said Mary Lu Rogers of the Division of Prisons. "We can see how they manage their operations and learn from them."

The students agree spending time with senior managers in other divisions has provided valuable insights into the agency. They’ve also developed relationships with people they can call on for advice. What they learn, they share in class discussions. By taking part in these discussions and in the class, the participants have also built new friendships.

"There were people that we barely knew when we came here or didn’t know at all from Enterprise or Community Corrections," said J. Haynes, Blanch Correctional Institution superintendent. "Now it’s like we’ve known each other for years and years and everybody is best friends."

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Each participant has already completed a research project on a topic new to the agency. They were required to check the Internet, libraries and other state departments of correction for information. The students are now tackling action projects. After getting permission from their supervisors and the class instructors, they must plan, compete, evaluate and write up a project that can help their area or the department.

The training program was designed to be demanding and have high standards. Schwartz says he hopes the agency is prepared for the new entrepreneurial spirit and skills the class has begun to develop.

"North Carolina was the last state correction agency to attempt a management training program this ambitious," Schwartz said. "Out of that class in the 1970s, there were several students who went on to direct state correction agencies."

One of those students was Mack Jarvis, who helped establish this new training program as part of his legacy before retiring last year as secretary of Correction. u

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