Author of Unrational Leadership Helps Ferndale Schools Move Ahead with Strategic Planning – 2013

By Crystal A. Proxmire – The Ferndale One-Fifteen News –  Feb. 1, 2013

With 30 years of management consulting under his belt, the President of Project Innovations Charles Fleetham is confident he can help guide Ferndale Schools to a successful five year strategic plan. His company has been hired by the district to manage this process over the next few months.
Fleetham has already begun the information-gathering stage of the project, securing documents from the district and talking to 38 stakeholders to get an initial sense of what issues Ferndale Schools may be facing. Stakeholders included administration, school board members past and present, teachers, parents and others in the community.
“We’ve found that there are four central themes that came up over and over,” Fleetham said. Those topics, which are now the focus of the planning moving forward, are enrollment, race, trust and collaboration and achievement gaps between student groups.
To those who are familiar with the district these might seem like obvious areas of interest, however by doing the initial interviews it helped Fleetham and his team to pinpoint the biggest issues and to rule out issues that do sometimes plague districts.
Fleetham, who has worked with other school systems including Bloomfield Hills, Detroit Jesuit High School, Redford Schools and Michigan Technological University, said Ferndale is special because of the things it doesn’t need extra help with. In other strategic plans, schools sometimes focused on financial issues, curriculum, teachers, facilities, and union issues. Knowing what the district is doing well helps just as much as knowing what can be improved upon, he said.


The Strategic Planning Committee is made up of five members, plus Fleetham and his coworkers. One the Committee is Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier, Deputy Superintendent Henry Gold, Communications Director Stephanie Hall, and school board members Karen Twomey and Kevin Deegan-Krause. Fleetham said that the members of this core team have committed to making the process as inclusive as possible.
Once the 38 initial interviews were completed, the committee approved the target areas and the process now moves into a more broad public discussion. They are in the process of selecting questions for an online survey which will be posted on the district’s website.
Next there will be town hall meetings where “champions” for each subject area will be selected to take the lead in the brainstorming process. They’ll discuss the specifics of the problems and come up with potential solutions. Project Innovations has resources to bring to the table as well, including experience with communications and teaching models such as Visible Thinking out of Harvard or Courageous Conversations About Race. These may or may not be considered as the discussions move forward.
Once the ideas are gathered, the committee will put together a draft of the plan, which will then be reviewed by the Champions, then discussed in detail during the committee’s board retreat. Once finalized it will be adopted by the school board and shared district wide.
Twomey, who is a teacher in the Bloomfield Hills School District, went through a strategic planning process with Fleetham before. “That was five years ago,” she said. “The political climate was so tense. You knew who was on each team. Children of these parents would sit on opposite sides of the room. People weren’t working together, but Charles came in and changed that.
“It’s wonderful to have situations where everybody knows the direction of the district. It’s as if everyone is paddling together in the right direction.” In Bloomfield Hills they were able to close two elementary schools, pass a bond, improve financial stability and reduce side issues and bickering. “People coalesced in the middle,” Twomey said.
In addition to outside perspectives and experience, Fleetham brings with him a true passion for his work. Before going into private sector consulting 30 years ago, he worked doing logistics for the Army, working with union employees to install management systems. There he learned that “when people are passionate about their environment and conflicted about what is happening there it can be a challenge,” and that sometimes leading can be like “facilitating large scale group therapy.”
Fleetham is also the author of “The Search for Unrational Leadership”, a book which encourages connecting with one’s creative and subconscious sides in order to lead. More information on the book is available at
On top of all of it, Fleetham has ties to the community. In the 1980s he spent six years living in Ferndale and still has family here. He’s been amazed at the city’s growth, but does miss the fish tank that was in the middle of the old McDonald’s. He looks forward to bringing all of the Ferndale Schools communities into the strategic planning process.
To find out more about Ferndale Schools visit . For more on Project Innovations go to