Your job title: school superintendent. You’re responsible for anywhere from a couple of hundred to several thousand students, and staff numbering from a handful to hundreds. You play many roles: policy adviser to a board of directors; facilitator of change for continuous improvement; steward of vision, mission and culture; instructional leader; public policy advocate; community leader and communicator; organizational manager; and ethical leader.
Today’s superintendent and members of his or her leadership team face many challenges. The curriculum in WSU’s field-based superintendent program prepares a diverse array of students to lead in the 21st-century educational environment.
Students past and present praise the program, encourage their staff members to enroll as well, and go on to enter WSU’s doctoral studies.
The superintendent program runs statewide, led by faculty at WSU Spokane and drawing on faculty at every campus. WSU leads this arena in the state of Washington, with twice as many students as the other four superintendent’s programs in the state combined.
The cohort design, with around 24-26 people entering each two-year cycle of study, builds valuable professional connections that last well beyond the program’s completion.
“It’s wonderful to know that you’re not alone — you can pick up the phone any time and call someone for an outside perspective,” says St. John-Endicott superintendent Mike Mansell. “The program is about more than just becoming a superintendent. It changes your perspective, and you make valuable connections.”
Like Mansell, Deer Park district superintendent Mick Miller, who earned his B.A. in education from WSU, is still in touch with people from his cohort. In addition to the valuable connections, he cites the high level of instruction as a key strength of the program. “Dennis Ray (associate professor of educational leadership at WSU Spokane and a former superintendent) and John Fotheringham (former faculty member) are the George Brains (former dean of the WSU College of Education) of today. They’re the E.F. Huttons of the superintendency: When they talk, people listen.’
Cheney School District Superintendent Mike Dunn, who earned a master’s degree in political science and principal’s and superintendent’s certification from WSU, has encouraged a number of people — including Miller — to go into the superintendent program.
“I encourage people for three reasons: one, I am a very loyal Cougar; two, I love the cohort model and the opportunity for people to meet together once a month, which is doable, and at different locations in the state; and three, Dennis and his colleagues bring such informed and practical experience and wisdom from their own work as school and district leaders, I just think it is a real advantage to get to learn from folks like them.”
Created by Ray, the field-based program allows professionals to continue working full time while they pursue their credentials. The program’s results are impressive: a 95 percent completion rate, with 73 percent employed as superintendents or assistant superintendents within three years of graduation. Around 50 percent of the students are interested in the doctor of education degree.
New doctoral degree
The new statewide Ed.D. format is WSU’s first statewide degree.
“With the changing demands on school administrators, they can’t be on a campus for six weeks every summer for four years,” Ray says. “This led to the field-based model for both principal’s and superintendent’s credentials, and influenced the design of the statewide Ed.D. to meet the needs of professional educators.”
Irene Gonzalez, executive director of teaching and learning services for Spokane Public Schools, says she fulfilled a lifelong dream by entering the doctoral program. “The WSU program has a wonderful reputation,” she says. “I recruit for the program among my colleagues.”
Miller concurs. He plans to pursue his doctorate, and says the cohort model and the new format are essential to his decision to do so at WSU. “There are a lot of people like me around the state who couldn’t do it any other way.”
Thanks to Miller’s experience in the superintendent program, he knows he can manage the demands of full-time employment and part-time graduate studies, as well.