In 2011, Western Carolina University suspended admission into its Educational Leadership program in order to re-engineer its curriculum.
Just over 10 years later, the program finds itself piling up awards. This week, the Educational Leadership program will be honored during the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate’s virtual convening as its 2021 Program of the Year award winner. That comes on the heels of claiming WCU’s Program of Excellence Award for Academic Programs in April.
“This award is the result of more than 10 years of continuous, collaborative, improvement efforts from the Educational Leadership faculty, including myself, Kofi Lomotey, Brandi Hinnant-Crawford, Robert Crow, Emily Virtue, Darrius Stanley, Heidi Von Dohlen and Cathy Andrews,” said Jess Weiler, assistant professor and the Educational Leadership program director.
“More specifically, we have sought program improvements that prepare educational leaders to enact systemwide, research-supported, equitable, and socially just practices ensuring the fair distribution of access and opportunity for all students. Every year, we collaboratively critique our program and make changes to ensure this outcome.”
Beginning in 2013, a new and more diverse faculty challenged colleagues to consider whether the program’s professed commitment to equity and social justice was genuine, giving the sparsity of curriculum and pedagogy around critical theory and critical praxis.
They reconsidered student learning outcomes, while also creating and adding courses connected to leadership for equity and justice. One final thing was to be clear about what they wanted students to know and be able to do upon completion of the program. That is now outlined in the WCU Ed.D Student Handbook, which reads:
Upon program completion, scholar-practitioners will continuously cultivate their critical understanding of the social construction and power relations perpetuating the unfair distribution of access and opportunity by educational organizations and demonstrate the scholarly enactment of systemwide, research-supported, equitable and socially just practices that ensure the fair distribution of access and opportunity for all students, starting with a dismantling of oppressive structures and practices.
“The program has consistently demonstrated evidence of quality and continuous improvement,” said Kim Winter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions. “Candidates engage in a problem of practice with the goal of bringing about change and assessing whether the change is an improvement.”
The program is a hybrid (both face-to-face and online instructional delivery) cohort model, designed across three years (including summers) for practicing educational leaders in PK-12, community college and four-year college/university settings.
“As the program director, I can emphatically report that this is truly a dream team,” Weiler said. “All Ed.D faculty collaborate on all aspects of the program. We come together monthly for faculty meetings, at least once a year for program improvement retreats, and we seek full faculty participation at CPED convenings to collectively learn about innovative approaches to leadership preparation. Through our teaching, service and scholarship, our faculty demonstrate a shared and relentless commitment to justice in education. It is this shared commitment that has brought success to our program, our students and our educational communities.”
The Educational Leadership program has been a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate since 2014. CPED includes more than 100 colleges and schools of education which have committed resources to work together to undertake a critical examination of the doctorate in education through dialogue, experimentation, critical feedback and evaluation.
The Program of the Year award is given annually to an institution whose CPED-influenced program proves to be distinctive, innovative and useful to fellow CPED members.
“With an increasingly diverse, competent and informed faculty, we are creating a program wherein our graduates are committed to disrupting inequitable, unethical and socially unjust educational programs – from pre-K to professional school – in an effort to epitomize equity, ethics and social justice, in North Carolina and beyond,” said Lomotey, WCU’s Bardo Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership.
“Receiving the Program of the Year designation from CPED is truly an honor for our faculty, students, graduates and community partners. This distinction suggests that our EdD program is moving in a positive direction.”