Virginia Jacko and I tell her incredible true story in our book The Blind Visionary (www.GovernanceEdge.com): losing her eyesight while serving as a senior financial executive at Purdue University; starting all over as a vocational rehabilitation student at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind in January 2001; becoming the first blind President & CEO of the Miami Lighthouse in 2005; and since then overseeing tremendous program diversification and revenue growth. On Virginia’s watch, the Lighthouse has truly become an innovation engine while also being heralded nationally for its leadership and management. This year the Lighthouse received its tenth consecutive 4-star rating from the national evaluator Charity Navigator, placing it in the top 1% of nonprofits in the nation.
The podcast Virginia recently recorded for this blog describes a major innovation initiative recently launched on Virginia’s watch at the Lighthouse: the Learning Center for Children. As Virginia explains in her podcast, the Center houses a truly innovative pre-K program serving – in the same classroom – equal numbers of sighted and visually-impaired students. The Center served 15 three and four year old students its first year, is serving 40 this year (including 1-2 year old toddlers), and expects to serve 60 students in its third year of operation. And the Center is located in a handsome new 72,000 square foot facility on the Lighthouse campus.
One of the leadership lessons drawn from Virginia’s experience that she discusses in The Blind Visionary – Reach Out Aggressively – is at the heart of the Learning Center initiative. As Virginia – networker and partnership builder extraordinaire – observes in The Blind Visionary, “One thing that I’d like our readers to take away from this book is the importance of reaching out to the people around you in all kinds of ways all the time, building relationships with supporters, stakeholders, collaborators, mentors, whatever.” The Center involves the kind of creative partnership that is one of the hallmarks of Virginia’s leadership. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest public school system, covers 80 percent of the cost of the Center’s pre-K program with Department of Education FTE funding And early childhood education faculty in the University of Miami’s Department of Psychology are conducting a four-year longitudinal study of the Center.
Another factor accounting for Virginia’s success as the Lighthouse’s “Innovator-in-Chief” is her close partnership with the Lighthouse Board of Directors. In the case of the Learning Center for Children, the Board, as Virginia explains in the podcast, was involved from the very get-go, via Board members’ participation in the Lighthouse’s strategic planning process. Far from being another one of those conventional long-range planning exercises, Lighthouse strategic planning pays special attention to capitalizing on opportunities for significant innovation.
By the way, you might be interested in checking out an earlier podcast Virginia recorded for extraordinaryceo.com, focusing on another highly successful Lighthouse innovation initiative, the Florida Heiken Program: https://www.dougeadie.com/virginia-jacko-ceo-extraordinaire/.