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Leading with Love During Uncertain Times

Dr. Silvia M. Lloyd makes her mission clear in her new book, Pandemic Preparedness Guide for School Administrators: Policies, Practices, and Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic (Amazon, $5.99): to emerge as a leader in pandemic responsiveness you have to have a plan and be able to articulate that plan to the masses. She started out in Buffalo where many of her ancestors arrived from South Carolina in the early 1920’s, bringing their own knowledge of struggle and survival through not only enslavement and Jim Crow, but also the 1918 pandemic. In 2008, she relocated to Rochester, New York and enrolled in the executive leadership program at Saint John Fisher College where she recalls one professor asking her, “Are leaders born or made?” Lloyd recalls, “In other words, he was asking me is leadership something that someone can learn, or do you have to be born with a specific personality type? I simply said, ‘Leaders are made. I don’t care if you’re tall, short, male, or female, leadership comes from our experiences, how we process them, and how we reflect that onto others.’”

The first thing to know about leadership, Lloyd says, “is that it takes a combination of positive character traits, learned skills, experience, and talent to lead effectively.” She goes on to say, “The last four years changed the world; not only did the coronavirus pandemic expose the racism and inequality that America was built upon, but it also revealed the true character of our president Donald Trump. We’ve seen the clear connection between a leader’s worldview and his or her desire to provide a plan to contain the coronavirus. We saw how one leader’s beliefs and values could create a mindset for the attitudes, opinions, and behavior of multiple others . During the coronavirus pandemic, each state operated differently because each governor handled the pandemic differently. Some governors did not feel it was necessary to have a verbal or written plan to communicate with its citizens; they simply told their citizens that the virus would go away. While others used very precise language to carefully articulate a verbal plan and they posted very detailed written plans on their websites, in reports, on social media pages, through robocalls, and text message blasts.

Even my daughter, who attends college in Ohio, mentioned this to me. During the Spring break we waited and waited for the Governor of Ohio to release his plan for reopening schools. We also waited for the president of her university to share a plan as well. Well, the plans never came. Students were told to return to school for the Fall semester, but my 20-year-old daughter decided on her own not to return to Ohio and ended up taking the year off. She said, ‘Mom, Ohio doesn’t even have a plan. I checked their website and found nothing. I wish I had gone to school in New York.’ She may not have realized that what she was expressing was trust in the governor of New York, his leadership, his explicit policies, his practices, and his team of experts showcased on television daily. Despite starting out with the highest rate of COVID-19 infections at the start of the pandemic, New York had emerged as a leader in pandemic responsiveness, because of great leadership that gave us comfort and hope. Not only my daughter, but also the world got to see what great leadership looks like and the powerful effect it could have on society, psychologically and emotionally. I hope that everyone who reads the pandemic preparedness guide emerges as a leader in their field.”

Speaking of Lloyd’s background, it’s been 13 years since she made her debut as a school leader when she was promoted to the Supervisor of Libraries in the Buffalo Public Schools. She felt she was the least experienced applicant. “I looked around the office at all of these seasoned administrators with high-profile careers, and I’m just the 35-year old school librarian who probably was the least experienced” she remembers. Her discomfort had her drawing on advice from her grandmother, a retired Buffalo Public Schools guidance counselor. “I won the Laura Bush Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant three times and used those funds to redesign the small, outdated school libraries that needed the most help in the Title-1 schools where the majority of students were born into poverty and scored the lowest on state tests. I purchased the latest technology to create state-of-the art libraries in Buffalo. When I left in 2008, reading scores had increased by 35 percent.”

In her book she tells how strategic planning and community engagement are the keys to effective leadership. She references the daily press briefings of Governor Andrew Cuomo during the lockdown and school closures beginning in March. “The pandemic caught everyone off guard. We were flying the plane as we were building it. Now, what we’re seeing is tremendous loss, especially for children of color. For the pandemic guide to be a success would mean that the tremendous loss has ended. If strategies from the book were implemented correctly, the significant loss of learning that kids are facing in our schools would cease. The adjustments would be made, and the learning would resume. Taking the strategies from the book, applying them correctly, and allowing the kids to flourish, that would be a true success.”

Lloyd isn’t immune to the hardships of life. She lost her grandmother in 2014. She also left school administration to return to the library. She moved to New York City where she always wanted to live since she went on a school trip in 1988 to participate in a jazz band competition. When she returned home, she told her mother, a researcher and five-time author, “I’m moving to New York!” Her smile is as bright as ever as she sits in her home in Yonkers where she continues to provide educational consulting through her home businesses Edusite Consulting and S. L. Public Relations. Lloyd says, “One thing that school leadership did for me was make me comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Sometimes, she reflects, “that’s where real character is made.” She holds the words of two very special role models very close to her heart, Iyanla Vanzant who once said, “there’s value in the valley,” and Michelle Obama, who said “leadership doesn’t change you, it reveals you.”

During the lockdown, Lloyd wondered what a crisis of this magnitude would reveal in our school leaders today. “I began to take copious notes. The notes turned into a report that I shared with a few close friends. One friend, who was a high school principal at the time, said, ‘everyone needs to read this, especially principals…you have to get the word out about this as fast as possible.’“

Because the information is so timely, Lloyd chose not to go the traditional route of the big publishing house, where African Americans are starkly underrepresented. A recent study conducted by Lee and Low reveals that the publishing industry lacks diversity with 78 percent white representation, seven percent Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander/South Asian/South East Indian, six percent Latinx/Latino/Mexican, five percent Black/Afro-American/Afro Caribbean, and three percent Biracial/Multiracial. It is also an industry where money drives decision-making and authors must already have a cult-like following in order to be received well and effectively promoted with the ability to rake in sky-high profits. Lloyd uploaded the pandemic guide onto Amazon in the form of an eBook to get the word out quickly. This means that she has to do all of the marketing, advertising, and public relations on her own. “My goal is not to make a lot of money from the coronavirus,” she said “it is simply to share information that could potentially save lives.”


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