Educational Leaders: Empowered by emphasis on practical experience

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Karen Kennedy

Karen Kennedy ’06, director with Innovative Special Education, which provides director services to Minnesota charter schools

Patty Popp

Patty Popp ’02, director of special education programming for the Minnesota Department of Corrections

Jody Tschetter

Jody Tschetter ’05, special education licensing specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education

Jeff Jorgensen

Jeff Jorgensen ’04, director of special education for the Alexandria School District and Runestone Area Education District

The special education leaders in Minnesota who earned their licensure at St. Cloud State say it’s “field experience” that sets the entire educational leadership program apart.

“The professors I took classes from all had real life experience in special education – what they shared with us was invaluable,” said Karen Kennedy, now a director with an organization that provides special education director services to 88 charter schools and small districts throughout the state. Minnesota requires that all public schools have a director of special education – Innovative Special Education provides that service to schools that don’t have the enrollment or budget for a fulltime director.

“I’ve felt empowered as a leader because of the skills they taught me and because of the resources they made me aware of,” said Kennedy, Chisago City, who earned her license in 2006.

How to institute change, how to work with challenging situations, how to be a leader: “I find myself using the skills we learned on a daily basis,” said Patty Popp, Rice, in describing what she took away from the educational leadership program.

Popp, who earned her license in 2002, oversees special education programming statewide for the Minnesota Department of Corrections while directing programming at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud.

Jody Tschetter, special education licensing specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education, is currently making use of the special education director licensure she earned at St. Cloud State in 2005, but she also has a principal’s license. The opportunity to earn both licenses was the first thing that attracted her to the St. Cloud State program.

It was the cohort model, though, that “sealed the deal” for Tschetter, as weekend classes in the Twin Cities in partnership with Anoka Ramsey Community College (ARCC) made it easier to earn her license while balancing a family and a fulltime job. Because of the St. Cloud State partnership with ARCC, the mother of two and resident of Forest Lake was able to take all but two of her courses in Anoka.

Best of all, said Tschetter, while in the program she especially appreciated the professors’ willingness to bring working professionals into the classroom. “It was good to hear from the field,” she said in expressing her gratitude to the professors who augmented their own extensive experience with that of current practitioners.

“You really gave us a leg up,” Jeff Jorgensen ’04, Alexandria, said in articulating what faculty in the educational leadership program did for students. “For me, what I found to be most valuable was the access to directors coming in from the field along with current faculty who had had that experience.” For example, he said, the people who taught school finance in the program were practicing professionals: “That really set SCSU apart.”

Those instructors also became a “resource bank,” so that when Jorgensen went to his first director position he was confident that “if I didn’t have the answer I had a pretty good idea where I could get it.” He’s now director of special education for the Alexandria School District and director of record with the Runestone Area Education District.

“With the number of licensures we award every year,” said Janine Dahms-Walker, educational administration program coordinator, “and the positions our graduates move into, our program will be influencing education in Minnesota for years and years to come.”

- Marge Proell

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