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Christian Leadership to Change the World

Never Give Up“Keep it real,” says Bob Zentmeyer when asked about his successes as a supervisor of alternative education in Egg Harbor, N.J. With a leadership style that is creative and inspiring, the Regent University graduate has discovered unique, collaborative ways to reach students who have previously met with failure. To see kids come to school and achieve success, perhaps for the first time, is reward enough for Zentmeyer. “I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing,” he says.

As the administrator of Eagle Academy, which he founded in 1999, Zentmeyer undertook the challenge of starting a vibrant alternative school from scratch. An old 1914 building was dedicated for the use of Eagle Academy, but Zentmeyer saw opportunities for student involvement, even in the refurbishing process. The students were actively involved with many projects to restore the building they would eventually call their home school. Active involvement, student ownership, learning and career development were all underway… and the school hadn’t even officially opened.

To build the skills that would help build his dream of helping students, Zentmeyer knew early on that he needed to find a strong master’s program. With his wife and three children, Zentmeyer took a sabbatical from his early teaching career in 1990 and headed for Virginia Beach, Va. He says Regent became a source of renewal and learning… a rich experience for the whole family. Zentmeyer’s graduate program provided a strong pedagogical foundation and trained him in the educational research process. In reflecting on his education, he says, “There is nothing that can substitute the holistic approach to education at Regent. You can live the truths that make a difference, and exercise the principles and values that contribute to the success of a program.”

Zentmeyer’s educational vision has benefitted Eagle Academy students since the school’s inception. He thinks out of the box and sees opportunities that others may have missed in order to spur his students to success. He has created a place where the teachers like what they do each day, and they know what they bring to the table truly makes a difference. The students may have had a long list of failures in the past, but when they come to Eagle Academy, they become involved in determining short-range ways to achieve success and setting some long-range goals.

His team’s commitment to success was rewarded in 2002, when Zentmeyer and his staff received the I.D.E.A.S. Award from the New Jersey Department of Education. “It’s always been fun to find good people with great ideas and find the resources to unleash those ideas to serve others,” says Zentmeyer. “When everyone is working together for a common goal, discipline problems are minimized and success is possible.”

The simply stated goal of Eagle Academy is to spark interest and thus fully engage at-risk secondary students. That is easier said than done, as anyone who has worked with at-risk teenagers knows; yet through a project called “No Child Left Inside,” Eagle Academy students have increased their attendance and gained valuable high school credits, leading them to the ultimate goal of a diploma.

Through one unique school and community collaboration, students became involved in transforming a former landfill into a community arboretum. The kids learned skills and prepared for future jobs, while ultimately meeting the community’s need for a park. Zentmeyer remarks, “Most people want to be a part of a ‘noble cause.’ Business people in the community understand if the youth’s needs are not met, then the society will suffer.”

Certainly, Zentmeyer is not a leader who presents himself as one with all the answers. He knows the importance of having excellent curriculum, specific objectives and structured follow-through. However, he believes that educators must have a listening ear to understand the needs of the stakeholders: parents, children and the community. Without that, at-risk students may not transition into becoming the productive citizens everyone desires. Regarding the responsibility of optimizing that transition, Zentmeyer reflects, “I don’t have to do it all. I don’t have to do most of it… if we all work together.”

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