Gregory Meece is recognized as a strong advocate for public charter schools.
After working as assistant to the Dean of Development at Delaware Technical & Community College, he became St. Mark’s High School’s first Director of Development in 1981. In 1996, he helped launch Delaware’s first charter school, The Charter School of Wilmington. Five years later he established the Newark Charter School and its middle school program. He opened Newark Charter’s primary school in 2006 and its junior/senior high school in 2013. As its only school director, he led Newark Charter to local and national prominence over a span of almost 19 years.
Meece served two terms as president of the Delaware Charter Schools Network and on numerous other committees and task forces. He holds his bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degrees in communications and educational leadership from the University of Delaware, and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the UD College of Arts & Sciences this past May.
Greg took time during his final days before retirement on June 30 to reflect on his career, shortly after the Newark Charter board of directors announced the naming of the school’s campus the “Gregory R. Meece Campus.”
How do you want to be remembered? I would like to be remembered as someone who worked hard and brought out the best in those he worked with. People tell me that I will be remembered as someone who made a difference, both on the lives of students and on the state’s educational landscape. It’s nice to hear that, of course, but I feel that all my teachers and staff make a difference. My job was to create a culture of success where my team and my students could thrive.
What three books would you would recommend to a new graduate? If they are interested in educational reform, I recommend reading “The Schools We Need & Why We Don’t Have Them,” by E.D. Hirsch Jr. If they want to understand how we became so accepting of the status quo, especially at the high school level, read “The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace,” by Powell, Farrar and Cohen. On a personal note, I recommend reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain. In his reference letter for my first job, a college professor described me as “extraordinarily shy and quiet, one who does not easily shine in a group,” but he went on to praise me as a man of “brilliant potential, eminently worth the effort to bring out.” “Quiet” changes one’s assumptions about leadership as a quality bellowing exclusively to extroverts and self-promoters. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice in the room, but the best listener who will emerge as the leader of change.
What were your strengths as a leader/entrepreneur? Someone described me as an “educational entrepreneur” because of my work in creating and expanding charter schools. One of my strengths is the ability to think outside the box and to be unafraid when it comes to taking risks. I don’t know about the term “educational entrepreneur,” but I will accept the term “educational pioneer.” To quote the poet Robert Frost, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
What’s more important in leadership: Make their strengths stronger or eliminate their weaknesses? It’s definitely about making their strengths stronger. When I hire people, it’s because I see their strengths. I enjoy cultivating the potential of the people around me by providing encouragement and recognition. You can get more out of your staff when they know you admire, support and trust them. Everyone has weaknesses, but if we focus on those things, we risk failing to inspire greatness.
What’s the greatest compliment you ever received? When I announced my retirement, one of my staff members told me that I always treated everyone fairly and with respect, no matter who they were or what their position was. Hearing that meant a lot to me. It’s the old saying: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? The best advice I received is when someone reminded me to say “we” instead “I.”
What’s your favorite quote? It may not show up in any books of famous quotations, but I always loved this one, spoken by the main character in the law movie, “The Verdict” — “There are no other cases. This is the case. There are no other cases. This is the case ...” I made that my mantra whenever I tackle an important issue. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. What I’m focused on right now is the most important thing.
What’s the biggest challenge facing Delaware businesses? I may not be an expert on Delaware businesses, but I do know that the most overlooked infrastructure issue in our attempts to attract and retain great employers to this state is our K-12 education system. We focus on roads, financial incentives and even tax-free shopping, but most workers considering Delaware first ask, “How good are the schools for my children?” That’s one of the main reasons why charter schools were created. DuPont and the other corporations that sponsored The Charter School of Wilmington recognized it. So did a study commissioned by the Greater Newark Area Economic Development Partnership. It showed our greatest liability in attracting businesses was our education system. Corporations like to focus their philanthropy on universities but supporting K-12 education is in their best interest.
What’s next for you? I still enjoy working, but probably not full time. Increasingly, I think businesses will value the great, untapped resource of retirees who have lots of experience and the wisdom that comes from it. They have contacts galore and a proven reputation. They have the flexibility to work at a reduced load (with accompanying reduced costs and benefits associated with full-timers). As long as I’m having fun, count me in!