Taking the Next Step
With the introduction of its first doctoral program, Lewis & Clark takes a bold step toward advancing education throughout the region.
by Ellisa Valo
On July 9, 2004, 18 Educational leaders from all over Oregon became the first doctoral candidates to begin studies at Lewis & Clark. A new program leading to the degree of doctor of education in leadership is the first-ever doctoral program offered through the Graduate School of Education.
“For the state of Oregon and its schools, the challenges facing leaders are more difficult now than they’ve ever been,” says Tom Ruhl, assistant professor of educational leadership and founding director of the program. “If we can bring our Ed.D. students greater insight into their capacity to lead organizations in ways that help their students and employees perform at higher levels, then the state and society will be better off.”
Although other Ed.D. programs exist in Oregon, the College saw the need for a program geared specifically to working professionals. Students will be able to complete the Lewis & Clark program in three years by attending one monthlong intensive summer session each year and one weekend seminar per month during the academic year. The program is designed not only to reduce work conflicts, but actually to improve current work performance by blending theory and practice. Projects focus on solving actual problems in the participants’ schools and districts, making courses relevant to the workplace and resulting in direct improvements in school conditions, programs, and student performance.
“This makes a statement about the College’s commitment to excellence in public education,” says Peter Cookson, dean of the graduate school. “We have a diverse group of people in our program from all over the state, and a few years from now, we’ll have a whole generation of folks who will be able to deal in new ways with some of the most important issues facing our schools. I’m proud of Lewis & Clark, and I’m proud of these students.”
Three Doctoral Students on the Leading Edge
For the 18 students in Lewis & Clark’s first Ed.D. cohort, one of the attractions to the program was simply the opportunity to be among the first. “This is a unique group of adventurers,” says program director Tom Ruhl. “They want to be on the experimental edge. They have accepted the challenge and the risk of not having the target clearly painted for them. And I think that’s very courageous.”
Three of the Ed.D. candidates shared their thoughts on the program’s first year. Their experiences so far offer a glimpse into the potential of this program—and of these people—to have a positive and significant impact on education far beyond the College’s walls.
Michael Carter, Superintendent, Rainier School District
As an education veteran who has partnered with Lewis & Clark staff members on statewide education projects, Michael Carter was eager for the College to launch a doctoral program. Carter attended a major university doctoral program for two and a half years, but found it impossible to complete the required weekday residency program while working full time as a high school principal. “The residency requirement was killing me, and it hurt my job immensely,” he says. By contrast, he now looks forward to Lewis & Clark’s once-a-month weekend classes as “an opportunity to relax from my day-to-day routine and get into the philosophical/practical application stuff that really is going to make my job better.”
Before the College launched its Ed.D. program, Carter was considering flying back and forth to Southern California to attend a program offered on weekends. As a new superintendent—he has been on the job just two years—he felt that advancing his leadership skills was that important.
“Education has changed drastically in the last five years,” says Carter. “As principals, administrators, and superintendents, we’re being asked to do much more with increasingly limited resources, so we have to fill our toolboxes with better tools. I’m learning to grow leadership within my own organization, and to do that, I have to be in growing mode myself.”
Because his work keeps him so busy, Carter especially appreciates the practical nature of the Lewis & Clark program. “All of our projects and our doctoral thesis topics are tied to our profession,” he says. “It makes it real. In my opinion, this is the way it should be.”
Carter focused one of his class projects, for example, on addressing the problem of high teacher turnover in small rural school districts. As a result of his Ed.D. work, he is now teaching a mentoring class for new teachers in his district. “The board loves it, because now we’ve got support for those teachers and we’re going to keep them here,” he says. “Every paper I’ve written, I’m using. It’s not like I’m just doing a school class project—I’m actually doing something that’s benefiting my job and my district.”
Carter believes that the Ed.D. program has put the College on the leading edge of a major movement in education. “Lewis & Clark has a dean and a president who are very proactive, and who understand that education has changed,” he says. “In my view, they’ve let the cows out of the barn. I think this college is going to set a trend for all universities. I think others can learn that you can tailor a program to fit working individuals and still meet high academic standards. We don’t have to write a thesis that’s going to be stuck in a library or that no one ever reads. This program allows ideas to be shared and applied—it could be monumental in terms of its impact.”
Shauna Adams, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Shauna Adams started working for Portland Public Schools 12 years ago as a family specialist, focusing on facilitating family and community involvement in the schools. Six years later, she moved to an administrative position, taking her work to the district level.
“We all talk about ‘honoring diversity’ and ‘celebrating diversity,’ but what does that mean? I’m trying to support educators as they examine these issues in an honest way.”
“As we look at how to involve families and communities in the educational process, it’s easier to involve people who look, think, speak, and act as we do, but it is much more difficult to develop and sustain relationships across cultural boundaries,” she explains. “I provide professional development training to help administrators, teachers, and other educators understand the complexity of involving a wide variety of people from a wide variety of perspectives in the educational process.”
In addition to her part-time work with the school system, Adams does similar training locally and nationally for other organizations. “We all talk about ‘honoring diversity’ and ‘celebrating diversity,’ ” says Adams, “but what does that mean? I’m trying to provide learning opportunities and to support educators as they examine these issues in an honest way.”
Asking people to delve into such emotionally potent areas—especially at the work site—can be challenging. “It’s tender work,” she says. “People enter these conversations with varying degrees of comfort. My job is to create the space for us all to engage in rich dialogue about the challenges and the benefits of increasing our cultural competence.” As a Lewis & Clark doctoral candidate, Adams is exploring new ways of approaching these sensitive issues with teachers.
One approach she is exploring is the use of visual images to open up dialogue. In her years working with families, teachers, and community members, she noticed that people who were initially uncomfortable would walk over to her bulletin board full of photographs and start to talk. Her observation turned into a passion for collecting photographs and quotes reflecting attitudes toward culture and difference. She uses the collection both in her own work and in public displays as a catalyst for those tender conversations.
As she works toward her doctoral dissertation, Adams hopes to take this passion even further. “We get very excited about the concept of using art in education for young people,” she says, “but what about adult learners and educators? How can we use art as a way to draw them into deeper learning also?”
Adams is thinking about delving into film as the medium for her dissertation. Through a series of interviews, she hopes to capture the essential elements of training and teaching that have helped other counselors and professionals work toward improving cultural understanding throughout the state. The end product would make this collected wisdom available to everyone working toward similar goals.
“That’s what I love about the Lewis & Clark program,” says Adams. “It’s more than just information gathering. It’s looking at my work and asking what is it, right now, that I can affect? As I learn more about facilitating these complex and vital conversations, I will be able to take that forward into my work in a powerful way.”
Carole Smith, Executive Director, Open Meadow Alternative School
Carole Smith had been thinking about a doctoral program on and off for several years, but she couldn’t seem to make the time to do it. When she learned that Lewis & Clark was introducing a program, however, “I knew it was time,” she says. Having completed her certificate in educational administration at the College, she had faith that the Ed.D. program would be practical and applicable. With Lewis & Clark, she says, “I knew I wouldn’t be jumping through hoops doing make-work.”
Smith’s time is too valuable for that. As the executive director of Open Meadow Alternative School, she has a lot of people depending on her. In 2003, the school served 550 middle and high school students who were on the verge of giving up on education. She and her staff work hard to develop innovative programs to re-engage students in learning.
“As many as 25 people will come to watch a single student graduate, because it’s the first person in their family ever to finish high school.”
One program, called CRUE (Corps Restoring the Urban Environment), teams up students with community partners to gain academic skills while solving real-life problems. Another, called Step Up, is partnering with Roosevelt High School in North Portland to reduce its dropout rate.
“Two years ago, Roosevelt had a drop-out rate of 31 percent—the highest in the city,” says Smith. “We designed a summer leadership camp for the highest-risk eighth-graders, building close relationships with them before they entered ninth grade and then tutoring them through their first year of high school. Every one of the students we worked with in Step Up last year is still in school, and they all have had excellent outcomes academically.”
In 2003, Open Meadow was one of 27 programs in the country to be honored with a PEPNet (Promising and Effective Practices) award for “excellence in preparing youth for adulthood” from the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Youth Employment Coalition. For a more personal measure of the school’s success, just attend one of its commencement ceremonies.
“As many as 25 people will come to watch a single student graduate, because it’s the first person in their family ever to finish high school,” says Smith. “And in the last three years, 84 percent of those graduates have gone on to college. That’s huge. It will make a tremendous difference for those families. I’ve been there 22 years, and I still cry at our graduations, because I’m so touched by the courage of our kids to make really radical changes in their lives.”
Smith’s hopes for the Lewis & Clark doctoral program are not necessarily to make radical changes in her own life, but simply to “go deeper into what I’m already doing.” She hopes to gain time to reflect, to read, and to explore what other people are doing in the field.
“I work with a staff that is incredibly committed to helping kids who have disconnected get reengaged in their education and figure out where their lives are going,” says Smith. “So my challenge is how to nurture that. I’m looking for ways to develop leadership opportunities for my staff, to ensure that they feel challenged and nurtured, and to provide that for the young people we serve as well.”
Tom Ruhl foresees many opportunities for faculty members from across the institution to become engaged in the learning of doctoral candidates in the future. Lewis & Clark alumni also may find ways to serve as advisers or collaborators. “We’re trying to hold open possibilities,” says Ruhl. “If anything, this is a degree in the exploration of the potential for human learning. As we look ahead to how that might occur and how others might get involved, we don’t want to close any doors.”
Ellisa Valo writes for Clarity Communications from her home office on the Clackamas River.
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