Thirty years ago, the College of Education offered a certification program for school superintendents that was unrivaled in Washington.
Back then, over sixty percent of Washington certification students made the pilgrimage to Pullman for their degree preparation. Dean George Brain, who led the program, was known nationally as a kingmaker – someone who could land a job for a WSU graduate with just a phone call recommendation.
Then Brain retired in 1983 and the college’s focus on the superintendency was de-emphasized. Other universities built up their programs, and the WSU certification program slipped into mediocrity.

In 1996, Dennis Ray rode to the rescue.
Ray, who had completed his doctorate with Brain as his advisor, returned to Pullman after a stellar career as a superintendent and created a modern field-based certification program. Thanks to the appeal of that program, WSU is once again preparing two-thirds of the state’s superintendents (see sidebar). The certification program has clearly regained its former glory.

While that summary of the program’s redemption may seem overdone or even melodramatic, that is in fact what happened, noted Gene Sharratt, clinical assistant professor of educational leadership at WSU Spokane. Sharratt became director of the superintendent certification program when Associate Professor Ray retired from the program in 2007.

“In superintendent certification, WSU has regained its stature,”
Sharratt summarized. “We now prepare the same percentage of superintendents as George Brain did. We have the largest program, by far, in this state, and our program is growing. This year, for example, we have 38 people applying for our 25 slots. For this, we all thank Dennis Ray. He shepherded this program to this level of state and national recognition.”

Sharratt’s assessment was echoed by Howard Coble, who served as a superintendent in a number of Washington school districts during the 1970’s and then from 1980 through 1991 was the executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) (online @ <>

“I knew George Brain quite well,” Coble explained. “He was the godfather. He could annoint people and arrange their careers. After he retired, the system changed. Nobody now could have that kind of control. Then at WSU, they built an exceptional training program. And now WSU has returned to pre-eminence. Their program is highly successful.”

The current WASA director, Paul Rosier, agrees.

“WSU’s reputation is now very good,” Rosier said. “Their field-based program is strongly supported. Other university programs are struggling. Our members are choosing WSU.”

Dennis Ray, though modest about his accomplishment, explains the process from his perspective:

“George Brain was very good to me. He could decide what jobs his students would be offered. He had that kind of influence. But it was a different era. Superintendent selection was not open to the public.
Then after George left, the model changed. The selection process was opened to input from all stakeholders. Also, WSU no longer had people well-connected to the world of superintendents. So, WSU’s reputation slipped, and instead of preparing two-thirds of the state’s superintendents, we were preparing only one-third.”

In 1996, Ray came to the College of Education with a proposal. He wanted to create a new superintendent preparation program based on the needs of the administrators working in the field. Those administrators could no longer take a year, or even a summer, and move to Pullman to study. Instead, they needed a program of weekend seminars and internships that were based in the reality of the superintendency of today’s schools.

“We tried to look at the program design from the consumer standpoint,” Ray explained. “The program was designed to be more relevant and more accessible. We built a two-year program based on cohorts of 25 students who would form a supportive network. We looked for experienced administrators to teach the classes. We wanted to overcome the disconnect between classroom learning and on-the-job reality, and were lucky enough to bring in a great group of retired superintendents as faculty, including Gay Selby, John Fotheringham, Don Cox, DeWayne Boyd, and Nancy Kyle.”

“It is very gratifying to see that this program has been so successful,” he added. “Of the reasons I came back to WSU in 1996 with this plan, 98 percent of it was to reinvigorate the relationship between WSU and the state’s superintendents. I wanted to bring back what was appropriate and valuable from the George Brain era.”

According to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (online @ <>, for the school year 2006-2007, a total of 40 students received superintendent certification statewide. Of those, two-thirds were from WSU.

Gonzaga University: 2

Seattle Pacific University: 8

Seattle University: 2

University of Washington: 1

WSU: 27