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ASU's teacher ed college graduates first leadership cohort

December 08, 2009

Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education (CTEL) will graduate 21 students this month with master’s degrees, the first cohort in the school’s one-of-a-kind high school leadership program.

The program, directed by Clinical Professor of Educational Leadership Marsha Speck, is the only one of its kind in Arizona and was launched in January 2008. The coursework features 36 credit hours for a master’s in high school leadership and Arizona Principal Certification and focuses on the partnership created by Speck with six local school districts. Graduating “students” in the program are currently working as teachers in Valley high schools.

“This is very rewarding to see our students graduating and now in a position to take leadership skills to a higher level in education,” says Speck, who joined the ASU faculty from San Jose State University where she developed the Urban High School Leadership program. “Arizona has one of the highest rates of high school drop-outs in the country, so we need to produce the next generation of leaders who can focus knowledgably on the issues – discipline, curriculum, classroom instruction, assessment and more.”

“The program is important because the issues in our high schools are very different from those in elementary schools, and the program will help the districts and the region grow their own leaders.

“Through these remarkable graduates we are meeting the needs for exceptional leaders to lead complex high school reform. The program also addresses the emerging shortage of teacher leaders, assistant principals and principals.”

The partner districts included in the M.Ed. program are Deer Valley Unified School District, Buckeye Union High School District, Glendale Union High School District, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Peoria Unified School District, and West-MEC (Western Maricopa Education Center), a public school district focused on career and technical education programs. Principals at each of the schools endorsed their teachers’ participation in the program and met regularly with Speck to monitor the progress of the program.

“The program empowers leadership in a variety of roles within a school system,” says Beverly Hurley, who earned her Ed.D. from Northern Arizona University and is now superintendent of the Buckeye Union High School District. In the leadership program, she was a co-instructor with Speck.  “We will have four graduates from this district alone who will be very prepared to enter education administration. They have acquired knowledge of and practice with leading the change process and thorough action-planning for achieving goals and maximizing overall school success for staff, students and the community as whole.”

Nick Gratzl is one of the students preparing to receive his M.Ed. on Dec. 17 at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena. The Chicago native came to Arizona after graduating with a B.S. in education from Illinois State University in 2005. He has taught art foundations and 3-D design courses at Buckeye Union High School for three years.

“The great thing about this program is the fact that we take the most current research on education, administration and leadership and use it immediately in job-embedded projects that are meaningful to the job and to the needs of the school we work for.  We immediately applied what we had learned in class to our school to make it better in some way.

“I am going to use the knowledge that I have gained through this program to be a leader for my department and work to revise and align our course curriculums across the district so we can start to develop the premier fine arts departments in the Valley.”

In the Deer Valley Unified School District, five leadership students took up the challenge of increasing high school student participation in a twice-monthly extended period at Sandra Day O’Connor High that allows learners an opportunity to make up tests and receive extra assistance on lessons and projects.  A survey conducted by the five found that just 10 percent of the students found the time valuable. A new program was implemented that now focuses on each grade level.  One immediate result: there are now 125 students, sophomores through seniors, who are mentoring 630 freshmen during the extended period.

“We are very proud to have established a new program at O’Connor,” says Colleen Weeks, a native of Massapequa Park on New York’s Long Island, who holds an undergraduate degree in secondary education from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a master’s in the same subject from NAU.  She has taught in the Deer Valley district for 15 years, including seven at the high school. “We’re now looking forward to the time when the current freshmen are seniors and all students at O’Connor will have been mentored as freshmen.

“This leadership program is uniquely designed to deal with issues of high school leadership,” she says. “Education is rapidly changing as we try to prepare our students for the 21st century global society. We are preparing students for jobs that aren’t even created yet.  As educational leaders, we are responsible to implement the reforms and do what’s best for students.”

Speck, meanwhile, is as excited about the partnerships formed as she is about first cohort.

“The partnerships we continue to build are focused on a working relationship together with schools and districts to develop leaders for our high schools,” says the former Fulbright Scholar who received her Ed.D. from the University of the Pacific. “Most leadership prep is done in isolation.  This program is offered with the full support, cooperation, mentoring and collaboration of current leaders.  It provides an excellent laboratory for real-world problem solving that will prepare teachers for leadership roles in a very effective way.”