Innovative education partnership meets with federal officials

June 24, 2011

Officials from Indiana State University and Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) presented their unique partnership to federal education leaders in Washington D.C. this week as a way to aid schools nationwide.

Through the Transformational Urban Leadership Program, school corporation employees have embarked on earning doctorate degrees in k-12 educational administration in a program tailored to fit their corporation's needs in classes held in Evansville.

The idea stemmed from the school corporation's principal licensure program, which held classes in Evansville.

"We wanted to develop an advanced learning program for current and aspiring school and district leaders," said former EVSC Superintendent Vince Bertram, who now is the president and chief executive officer of Project Lead the Way. "We wanted it to focus on urban transformation and urban schooling. It has been a remarkable experience for our participants."

While Indiana State has long offered doctoral programs in education, this is the first time that it is being offered and fitted to a single school corporation.

"While graduate programs have been delivered to school corporations in the past, I'm not certain of any other Indiana public institution delivering doctoral programming tailored for a school corporation's needs," said Bayh College of Education Dean Brad Balch. "Our educator preparation is based on a clinical pedagogy. As such, we are committed to our k-12 partners and real conditions of practice. This was a natural extension of who we are as a community of educator preparers."

Dave Dimmett, chief academic officer of the EVSC, said many school corporations have arrangements with teachers and administrators, who pursue advanced degrees and professional development, at various universities.

"This [program] is offered with an established, well-known university with a cohort comprised of one district's school leaders," he said. In Evansville, the EVSC believes that leadership is not hierarchical and should happen at all levels from the corporation down to the classroom, according to Dimmett. "We want to encourage more [employees] to see those challenges and address those challenges."

Bertram said leaders pursuing doctorates are important for the district.

"It's significant in terms of becoming consumers and originators of research, developing critical thinking and problem solving, and modeling continuous learning," he said. "We are developing our human capital."

In pursuing that growth, Bertram said it also would help the school corporation find answers to its challenges. As an urban school district, EVSC faces unique challenges to serving its students, which the program addresses.

"They serve a large number of schools with great levels of diversity in many areas beyond nationality and skin color with poverty levels, distinct communities within the district, rural schools, city schools and suburban schools," Terry McDaniel, ISU assistant professor of educational leadership who is overseeing the program, said about the school corporation. "This creates different needs and challenges. By focusing on urban leadership, we could best prepare the leaders of Evansville's schools to meet the needs of the students and the community."

"We need leaders who can deliver solutions," Bertram said.

Twenty-three EVSC employees began this spring in the first of what will be three cohorts at the school corporation.

Dimmett said while those pursuing their doctorates at EVSC would receive essentially the same education as those attending other universities, the lessons at other universities wouldn't be focused toward affecting change in the district.

"In more generalized advanced degree programs, they will at times focus on the needs of the local district, but not in the way this program can," Dimmett said.

By working with ISU, Dimmett said the school corporation can leverage change for Evansville.

"We have a lot of smart, enthusiastic and engaged folks in this cohort," Dimmett said. "In a short amount of time, they'll have their doctorates from ISU. That wouldn't be possible if ISU wasn't willing to do something different."

In approving the program, the Indiana Commission of Higher Education praised the model that uses a combination of on-site and distance-based courses. Now, due to the program's uniqueness, Balch, McDaniel and Dimmett presented the model on Thursday to officials at the U.S. Department of Education and to key policy makers on Capitol Hill, including the Indiana delegation in Congress.

The three educators told of the role colleges of education play in developing programs that can create changes within the school district. They also showed how the program could be an emerging model replicated nationally as well as advocated for resources for school improvement programs for school administrative leadership and for greater flexibility to use other federal education funds to support school improvement activities.

Bertram said there is a tremendous need across the nation for "this kind of innovation."

"We have to get outside traditional models to meet peoples' needs," he said.

Contact: Brad Balch, Indiana State University, Bayh College of Education dean, at 812-237-2919 or Brad.Balch@indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or Jennifer.Sicking@indstate.edu