Good Work: Trustees For A Slice of America

The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring,
to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.
-M. Scott Peck

Photo courtesy of Advancing Leadership

Driving my mom around the leafy suburbs today, I said, “Bet you wouldn’t guess that most kids here live in or near poverty.”  Here in the town where I was superintendent, we hide our poverty pretty well.  This place is a slice of America serving students in poverty and students from higher income families, students who’s families came from all over the world to live here, students who a lot like my kids and students who are very different.
After a half a century as a sleepy collection water front neighborhoods and semi-rural properties, Federal Way, Washington experienced 20 years of uncontrolled growth including an explosion of multi-family housing and strip centers.  In an effort to gain some measure of control a group of civic leaders lead an incorporation effort in 1990.  As an adolescent city, Federal Way is struggling to become something more than a mall and a collection of strip centers.
My wife and I wanted to raise our kids in a diverse place where community leaders were working together to meet new challenges—and we found that in Federal Way.   An active chamber and group of civic leaders formed a police department, built parks, improving streets, and creating an identity as a great place to “live, learn, work and play.”
In the early 90s, there was an unusually level of cooperation across traditional boundaries.  Elected officials in Federal Way hired a retired Army officer as City Manager, a hospital administrator as Fire Chief, and a business executive as School Superintendent.  The city and school district co-manage three junior high and city park complexes.  The police provide high school security.  The City and the Chamber of Commerce share the cost and responsibility for economic development.  The Chamber facilitates business partnerships with the schools and provides financial support through an educational foundation.  Advancing Leadership, sponsored by the Chamber, develops community leaders. A Multi-Service Center supports a variety of family needs. Life long residents and new comers working side by side have made the community safer, more prosperous, more attractive and livable.  Schools have improved, new businesses have been attracted to the community, and a real downtown is emerging.
This place is coming together for one simple reason; there are a few thousand extraordinary people who believe this is more than the place they live, they call this place home.  They lead lives of personal, social, and civic responsibility.  From different backgrounds and with disparate view, they live as trustees.  They live, give, serve, shop, worship, play, lobby and vote here—all done with interest and intent.  They do it not only for their own children but for other people’s children.  They own stock here.
Occasionally initiated by self-interest, sustained and effective community leadership takes empathy on a massive scale, not just for the person in front of you, but for neighborhoods, diverse groups of people, for a piece of a hurting world.  It means seeing the need, in a powerful and personal way, letting it focus your attention, and compelling you into a compassionate response.  Leaders take ownership, they act like trustees.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.