--- Updated October 15, 2013

Dr. Jay Badams, superintendent of the Erie School District, was keynote speaker at the Erie Housing Authority’s 75th Anniversary Celebration on October 11.

Speaking with him was  former Erie Public Housing resident Colonel Doris Tate-Johnson, U.S. Army retired.

Badams is best known for moving the Erie School District toward financial stability.

He is also responsible for revising the high school curriculum; the development of a district-wide assessment system; and development of significant policies governing discipline, attendance, and graduation requirements.

During his fifteen year career with the Erie School District, he has served as a special education teacher, an assessment specialist, Associate Dean of Collegiate Academy, a curriculum coordinator at both elementary and secondary levels, and Director of High Schools.

Badams served as Superintendent of the Wattsburg Area School District from September 2007 until January of 2009.

He was selected by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as featured presenter at several Governor’s Institutes on Data-Driven Decision Making, and most recently served on the assessment work group of the Governor’s Commission for College and Career Success.

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., he earned his B.A. from Allegheny College, his M.Ed. and Superintendent’s Letter from Edinboro University, and his doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Prior to entering the field of education, Dr. Badams served as a medic with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and as an Account Manager with Eastman Kodak Company.

Badams and his wife, Tiffany, have four school age children, who attended Erie’s public schools.


In his remarks, he said:

Tonight's theme, "It's about people" is deceptively simple.  And I would like to start my remarks tonight considering the theme from the singular form of the word people, person.  And, though he will likely be mad at me for doing so, I want to take a moment to talk about a person named John Horan. 

John is an example of the incredible amount of good that one person can do in a career devoted to improving the lives of other people.  John could have been an outstanding Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of Erie simply by maintaining safe, decent and affordable public housing.  But John has done much more than that.  John is what Harvard Business School professor David Badaraco describes as a Quiet Leader.

Badaraco writes that:

"...over the course of a career spent studying management and leadership, I have observed that the most effective leaders are rarely public heroes.  These men and women aren't high-profile champions of causes and don't want to be.  They don't spearhead ethical crusades.  They move patiently, carefully, and incrementally.  They do what is right-for their organizations, for the people they serve, and for themselves inconspicuously, and without casualties.  I have come to call these people quiet leaders because their modesty and restraint are in large measure responsible for their impressive achievements. And since many big problems can only be resolved by a long series of small efforts, quiet leadership, despite its seemingly slow pace, often turns out to be the quickest way to make an organization, and the world, a better place"

John's insistence that it's about people, rather than about institutions, bureaucracies, statistics or even himself sets him apart. 

His true belief in this regard is what I'm sure has moved him and inspired him to work way beyond the requirements of his title and position.

Learning centers, dental clinics, scholarships, employment programs, simple but ingenious safety measures, gardens, and a really long list of initiatives that go way beyond his job description provide ample proof of a life dedicated to the service of others.  I find John's long career of commitment to people inspiring.

That said, what about the value of safe, decent and affordable housing to the education of the children in Erie's Public Schools. 

First of all, there are about 2400 school age children who benefit from the housing opportunities provided by the Housing Authority.  Erie's Public Schools currently educate about 12000 students, which means that as many as one in five of our children live in safe and affordable homes thanks to the Housing Authority.  Further, many of these children also benefit from the supplemental health and educational services that the organization provides.

Hundreds of researchers have concluded that the stress children experience because of life circumstances like poverty, homelessness, bullying and violence is quite damaging to their overall health and wellbeing, but is also has a severe impact on their ability to learn:   their attachment to school: their engagement in the classroom: it negatively affects both attendance, and behavior.  Further, current research on the factors that lead students to drop out of school indicate that without significant intervention, the effects of poor attendance, behavior and school performance are almost irreversible by sixth grade, which is coincidentally the grade I was in when John began this most important and impressive work!

So, how does this work relate to the work of the public schools? 

A strong, creative, and constantly improving Housing Authority means that thousands of children are coming to school better prepared to learn.  In my opinion, that puts good pressure on our school district to do the same. 

To be creative. To innovate. To hold people at the forefront of our decision-making and improvement efforts.  Toward that end the district is in the middle of an effort to do what this organization has been so successful in accomplishing, that is finding a way to bring equity to the facilities that the public provides for its people.

We are attempting through a district wide planning process to create a vision of the kinds of school buildings that our children deserve.  We are hoping to create a plan that challenges policy makers to consider the needs of urban school systems and the unique challenges cities face that too often result in inequity. 

We are not alone in terms of our needs, but we are prepared to make our case to our legislators, our taxpayers, and our philanthropic community. Our children deserve better, and our community will benefit tremendously from a funding formula that better addresses the needs of our Commonwealth's cities.

Finally, I noticed in tonight's program the description of Colonel Johnson as Hero of Erie's Public Housing.  I love that apostrophe.  That little punctuation mark is also the most significant feature in our new logo and brand: Erie's Public Schools.  To me, it reaffirms that it is truly about people.  These are Erie's Public Schools.  This is Erie's Public Housing. These important organizations belong to and serve the people of Erie.


The Housing Authority is the oldest operating authority in the City of Erie and is one of the oldest authorities in Pennsylvania and in the country.  It has provided affordable housing for 75,000 citizens of Erie from World War II into the 21st century.

The Authority is proud of its role in the Erie Community and welcomes you to celebrate its 75 years of service.

The gala event, featuring dinner, entertainment, and our distinguished keynote speakers, was held at the Bayfront Convention Center.