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Doctoral program prepares educators for executive leadership roles

December 14, 2009

Arizona State University is answering an increased demand for dynamic educational leadership through its D.E.L.T.A. doctorate program, a rigorous and socially relevant program that addresses today’s most critical issues in education to enhance knowledge of teachers and administrators.

Each year, 20 students are admitted as a cohort to the Dynamic Educational Leadership for Teachers and Administrators program, administered by ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education. D.E.L.T.A. graduates earn a doctorate in education (EdD) and go on to obtain executive leadership roles in education, according to D.E.L.T.A. Coordinator Lynn Davey, a clinical associate professor with the Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education. The program’s goal is to develop dynamic leaders for innovation in education and school change and improve understanding about the needs of schools in urban, indigenous and immigrant communities. Educational equity and social justice are key topics, along with curricular and instructional leadership and global issues in education.

D.E.L.T.A. is designed to accommodate the needs of full-time, practicing professionals such as assistant principals, principals, directors, supervisors with district responsibilities, assistant superintendents, superintendents, human resource and school business administrators, governmental educational personnel and teacher leaders. 

“What separates D.E.L.T.A. from other doctoral programs is that most all of our classes are taught by full-time ASU faculty,” she said. “That’s a real strength. We have a wonderful faculty, and they teach classes that are very intellectually challenging.”

Through the three-year doctoral program, students develop strong relationships that continue to support them as they progress in their careers. Students also are assigned a faculty mentor who guides them through graduation. The D.E.L.T.A. coursework focuses on educational policy and law, evaluation and assessment of school change, state and local finance of schools, diversity in education for administrators, research techniques and organizational development.

“It’s a heavy course load," Davey said. "Many students work full time and take nine credits, but they have someone to lean on and encourage them to complete the program.”

Additionally, the program emphasizes urban education and diversity, social justice and equity, and the need for effective leadership in school districts serving students with diverse languages and cultures. It includes travel to Mexico and a Spanish-speaking country such as Argentina, Spain or Costa Rica.

“During those trips there are two goals: That our students learn some Spanish and better understand global issues in education," Davey said. "This year we are going to Spain and Oaxaca, Mexico, visiting school and hearing lectures and studying in Spanish. Spanish is an important component. We believe that for administrators in the Southwest, being able to communicate with families and children is very important.”

D.E.L.T.A. student Elizabeth Vaught said the bi-national travel to Argentina and Mexico were eye-opening experiences.

“I knew that to be successful I would have to be more aware of and in tune with the community which I was serving. I knew that I would have to learn Spanish, but I wasn’t really thinking about the cultural aspects and what it means to emigrate from Mexico,” Vaught said. “I had only thought about the experiences of immigrants rather than what they left behind. It gave me a better idea of the whole picture, not just my little district. It’s very easy to live in your little box, which is your classroom. D.E.L.T.A. helps you see globally.”

Currently an assistant principal in the Roosevelt School District, Vaught will graduate in May 2010. She said she entered the program to become more involved in new research and gain a more global perspective in education. Already it has helped her career in a promotion from a staff development coach to assistant principal, and she credits the program’s superintendency internship for pushing her to examine the vast range of issues in education.

“I would have been thinking in terms of my own job only if I hadn’t been asked to see things from a broader view and step out of my comfort zone into my internship duties,” she said.

Vaught said her goal is to be a principal within two years and eventually become a district-level director in curriculum, staff development or human resources.

“D.E.L.T.A. helps you realize what you’re good at and what you need to improve," she said. "I’ve learned I have a passion for so many more things than I ever thought, and it has helped me channel that energy. It’s given me a sense of urgency. I can’t sit still anymore in my career. I now know how much needs to get done. I’m only one person, but there’s a lot of work to be done in our field.”

Deborah Burdick, superintendent of the Cave Creek Unified School District, is a D.E.L.T.A. graduate and adjunct professor who credits the ascension of her career to the program. Burdick was a principal when she began D.E.L.T.A.  She became an associate superintendent upon graduation and was named superintendent of Cave Creek in 2008.

“It absolutely helped my career,” she declared. “And I believe in it enough to know that it’s worth the time from an already very busy job to give back to the program by staying in the coursework and mentoring young D.E.L.T.A. doctorate hopefuls as they go through the program.”

Burdick also said she is still very close with the members of her cohort, who cheered each other on during their dissertations and continue to be supportive in their professional careers.

“The beauty of an executive leadership program is that you continue working and networking with other individuals who are interested in learning and growing together," she said. "The cohort supports each other. No one gets left behind. Everyone makes sure everyone else is learning and successful. After graduation, we support each other moving onto the next step.”

The Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education is seeking applicants for the Dynamic Educational Leadership for Teachers and Administrators (D.E.L.T.A.) program’s ninth cohort, beginning Fall 2010. An information session for prospective students is being held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, in Farmer 108B on the ASU Tempe Campus. Completed applications are due by Feb. 15, 2010.

For more information and details regarding how to apply to the D.E.L.T.A. program, visit: