SMU Institute for Leadership Impact Welcomes 2021-2022 District Leadership Fellows

“I would say that District Leadership Fellows definitely saved me . . . in so many ways. I felt like I wasn’t alone.” – Khechara Bradford(Deputy Superintendent of Learning, Providence Public Schools, RI) 

District Leadership Fellows 2021-2022 Cohort

With 27 participating school leaders, the newest cohort of SMU’s District Leadership Fellows is the largest since the program was founded in 2016. The cohort, which hails from school districts in Arkansas, New Mexico, New York, and Texas, includes participants who hold many different leadership positions in districts of many different sizes. 

The SMU District Leadership Fellows program is a strengths-based leadership development program that enhances the leadership abilities of established and emerging school district leaders through an intensive year-long cohort. Through collaboration with peers and recognized education experts, Fellows are empowered to solve hard problems in their districts, build their leadership skills, and develop lasting educational leadership networks. The program is hosted by the Institute for Leadership Impact in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. 

Dr. Eric G. Bing, the director of the District Leadership Fellows program, remarked that the program has undergone significant changes in response to the challenges faced by school leaders in a time of public health uncertainty. According to Dr. Bing, the program has expanded to include leaders from many different regions and types of communities, and has increased its focus on addressing problems related to student well-being and gaps in learning. 

Who’s in the 2021-2022 cohort? 

School leaders in the upcoming cohort of the District Leadership Fellows program include Dr. Debbie Atwell (Superintendent, Mountainburg Public Schools, AR), Mrs. Akilah Bennings (District Instructional Coordinator, RMA Texas Public Schools, TX), Mr. Chris Bradshaw (Superintendent, Maud ISD, TX), Dr. Michelle Cline (Superintendent, Throckmorton Collegiate ISD, TX), Mr. Matt Cole (Superintendent, Livonia Central School District, NY), Dr. James Cowley (Superintendent of Schools, Groesbeck ISD, TX), Mr. Zach Crawford (Superintendent, Zavalla ISD, TX), Mr. Brandon Dennard, (Lead Learner / Superintendent, Red Lick ISD, TX), Mrs. Althea Dixon (Assistant Superintendent, Paris ISD, TX), Dr. Wendy Eldredge (Superintendent, Crandall ISD, TX), Mr. Mark Ferrer, (Assistant Superintendent – Human Resources, New Diana ISD, TX), Dr. Kimberly Gilmore Madkins (Assistant Superintendent of School Leadership, Edgewood ISD, TX), Dr. Matthew Gutierrez (Superintendent, Seguin ISD, TX), Dr. Eduardo Hernandez (Superintendent, Edgewood ISD, TX), Dr. Angela Herron (Chief Teaching & Learning Officer, Grand Prairie ISD, TX), Dr. Darin Jolly (Deputy Superintendent, Ennis ISD, TX), Dr. Thurston Lamb (Superintendent, Henderson ISD, TX), Ms. Malinda Lindsey (Superintendent, Kennard ISD, TX), Mr. Joe Lopez (Superintendent of Schools, Kermit ISD, TX), Dr. Deidre Parish (Superintendent, Darrouzett ISD, TX), Dr. Brenda Poole (Superintendent, Brinkley Public Schools, AR), Dr. Andy Reddock (Superintendent, Flatonia ISD, TX), Dr. Gene Schmidt (Superintendent, Farmington Municipal Schools, NM), Dr. Lisa Stanley (Superintendent, North Texas Collegiate Academy, TX), Dr. Des Stewart (Superintendent, Gainesville ISD, TX), Mr. Art Urquidi (most recently Assistant Superintendent, Lake Worth ISD, TX), Dr. Sandi Whitley (Executive Director of Leadership Development, Forney ISD, TX). Drs. Cline, Jolly, Parish, and Reddock are returning Fellows. 

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.  

Leaders Complete 2020-2021 District Leadership Fellows Program

The 2020-2021 cohort of the SMU District Leadership Fellows program wrapped up the year with a final meeting.  Fellows participated in a roundtable on Social Emotional Learning programs for educators and provided updates on their projects.    

District Leadership Fellows 2020-2021

The 2020-2021 cohort of District Leadership Fellows has wrapped up with a virtual year-end retreat.  The session opened with a roundtable discussion titled “Social Emotional Health for Educators: Caring for Those who Care for our Kids”.  Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, Executive Director of Engagement Services at Dallas Independent School District, described the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program that has been implemented for staff and students in Dallas ISD.  District Leadership Fellows program facilitator, and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at Waco ISD, Dr. Josie Hernanadez-Gutierrez described the process underway at Waco ISD to implement a Social Emotional Learning program for district staff.    

Social Emotional Learning graphic

Fellows then provided year-end updates on their projects.  Dr. Gerald Hudson, Superintendent at Cedar Hill ISD in Texas, described his initiative to work with the community to create a Community Based Accountability System for the district.  Ms. Khechara Bradford, Deputy Superintendent of Learning at Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island, described her transition from education leadership in Texas to Rhode Island.  Other Fellows also presented updates, and discussed the common themes that emerged from their year’s work. 

The leaders had a chance to reflect on key insights and lessons learned in their time in the program, and to think through critical next steps as they move forward to next year.  The session ended by circling back to the important work the leaders have engaged in throughout the year, both in terms of moving their projects forward, and in terms of building a network of peers to support each other as they continue to learn and grow. 

Two quotes from District Leadership Fellows

Information on applying to join the 2021-2022 cohort of District Leadership Fellows is available here. 

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.  

District Leaders Discuss Innovative Strategies for Combatting Learning Loss

Taking a two-year approach to catching up after the pandemic, considering alternatives to retention, focusing on skills gaps not content gaps, and providing summer activities for all learners were some of the ideas raised at the April meeting.

At the April meeting of the District Leadership Fellows program, Fellows discussed innovative strategies for combatting learning loss.  Dr. Deidre Parish, Superintendent of Darrouzett ISD in Texas, and Mrs. Amanda Rather, Assistant Superintendent of Lonoke Public School District in Arkansas, began the session by outlining the challenges in their districts, their plan for moving forward, and questions they are still wrestling with.  Following their presentations, the cohort broke into smaller groups so everyone had a chance to contribute ideas.

District Leadership Fellows April 16 cohort meeting

One of the first challenges district are facing is ascertaining which of the available data sets are most helpful for identifying the gaps in learning, be they skill gaps or content gaps.  Fellows mentioned formative assessments, baseline data, standardized test data and longitudinal data.  Taking a deep dive into individual student data was raised, as was working with assessment partners to distinguish district trends from national trends.

Identifying the populations to be served by summer programs, and additional programs in the next school year, was a second area of thought partnership.  Some districts are providing programming for all students, while other districts are focusing on students who are significantly behind.  For graduating seniors, credit recovery is an important consideration.  For students who continue to learn virtually, offering summer programs that are also virtual was mentioned.

Supporting teachers who will teach summer programs is another important consideration.  Some districts are designing summer sessions so teachers can work with students at different grade levels in their subject area over the course of each day.  Providing targeted professional development with adjustments for pandemic-related obstacles was emphasized.

Some of the practical aspects of adding summer sessions were explored such as locating funding sources to pay for teachers, transportation and nutrition services.  For some districts, this summer will be the first summer in a long time with summer sessions.

Lastly, thinking through what school will look like for the next couple of years was examined.  Some districts are looking at recovery over a two-year period as opposed to trying to close learning gaps in one year.  Looking for alternatives to retention is important to many districts.  Bringing some of the best aspects of online learning back to in-person learning was also being investigated.

District Leaders all appreciated the opportunity to share ideas and approaches, and to talk with colleagues about how different districts are planning around the challenges presented by learning loss.

If you are interested in learning about the 2021-2022 cohort of District Leadership Fellows, program information is available here.

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter

SMU Students Debate Policy Solutions to Firearm Suicide

Undergraduate students in a new public health course at SMU are honing their persuasive speaking abilities in a series of formal debates about ongoing public health issues. 

Pandemics Debate 1, judges and two teams
Judges and two of the teams participating in a debate on policies to reduce firearm suicide.

Students in the new SMU course Pandemics! The Science of Disease Spread, Prevention, and Control have spent the last several weeks learning about the basics of public health research design and constraints faced by the public health field. Now, they’re putting that knowledge to use in a series of debates judged by panels of experts.  

Earlier this week, students in the course faced off over whether focusing on introducing additional gun control measures or focusing on increasing access to mental health care would be the preferable policy approach to reducing firearm suicides in the United States. While weighing the potential impact of each family of policies, students introduced criteria including political feasibility, effectiveness, cost, and risk. The judges ultimately favored teams who outlined specific policy plans and demonstrated that they could effectively respond to their opponents’ points. Out of the three debates between six teams of students, two “mental health” teams and one “gun control” team emerged victorious. 

SMU Professor of Global Health Eric G. Bing, the creator of Pandemics, took inspiration from his popular course Creating Impact in Global & Public Health, which also includes formal debates. Bing said he hopes that the debates in both courses will help his students become better advocates and critical thinkers.  

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter. 

An SMU District Leadership Fellow Reflects on Her Experience

I would say that District Leadership Fellows definitely saved me this year, in so many ways. I felt like I wasn’t alone. – Khechara Bradford

Khechara Bradford, 2020-2021 SMU District Leadership Fellow
Khechara Bradford, 2020-2021 SMU District Leadership Fellow

The 2020-2021 cohort of SMU’s District Leadership Fellows program first convened during an ongoing public health crisis that has stretched school leaders thin. Faced with mounting infections in their districts, new public health guidelines, and other challenges, many district leaders felt completely overwhelmed by the time the cohort kicked off several months into the pandemic.

Khechara Bradford, now the Deputy Superintendent of Learning at Providence Schools in Providence, Rhode Island, joined the cohort in the hope that she could find a community of people in similar situations to hers, who could help her navigate the challenges of COVID-19. Half a year into her fellowship, Bradford noted that “in school leadership, you sometimes feel so alone. You’re the only chief academic officer, you’re the only superintendent, you’re the only deputy superintendent, and then coming together, we really have this community where we’re able to share our experiences and find so many commonalities.”

During their year-long fellowship, District Leadership Fellows collaborate to solve problems of practice in their districts. Bradford told us that her time collaborating with other educational leaders in the program “reminded [her] of [her] purpose for doing this work: it isn’t about a title or a job description, it’s about a deep passion for supporting public education.”

As our discussion concluded, Bradford told us that “if there’s any leaders out there who are looking for something to take their leadership to the next level or to really refine their practices, this is an amazing program that they will get so much more than just a technical knowledge out of.”

Learn more and apply to join the next cohort of District Leadership Fellows here.

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter. 

Researchers Begin Phase II of Meditation Study

Innovative research on meditation and mindfulness continues at SMU

Lead by Dr. Eric G. Bing, professor of global health in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development and in the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciencesa team of researchers from the Institute for Leadership Impact is conducting innovative research on meditation and mindfulness.   

Meditation study flyer

Students from SMU and eighteen other universities participated in the first phase of the study which investigated the use of meditation as a tool for reducing college students’ stress during the coronavirus pandemic.  The study examined the effectiveness of motivational coaching as a strategy for improving formation of meditation habits and increasing the effects of meditation on participants’ well-being.  Dr. Wen Huang, a Postdoctoral fellow in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and Megan Brown, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropologyare leading the analysis of data from this phase of the study.   

Recruitment for the second phase of the study is underway, and SMU undergraduate and graduate students currently in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are invited to sign up.  Phase II will focus on different methods for building a meditation habit.  Participants will learn to meditate daily using an app, meditating for 9-20 minute a day for one month from the convenience of their own home.  For more information on enrolling in the study, contact Kaitlyn Contreras at kcontreras@smu.edu  

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter. 

Applications Open for 2021-2022 District Leadership Fellows

“If there’s any leaders out there who are looking for something to take their leadership to the next level or to really refine their practices, this is an amazing program that they will get so much more than just a technical knowledge out of.” Khechara Bradford, Deputy Superintendent of Learning, Providence Public Schools, Rhode Island

Applications are open for the 2021-2022 cohort of the District Leadership Fellows, a virtual, strengths-based leadership development program run by the Institute for Leadership Impact at Southern Methodist University. Established and emerging district leaders who are collaborative, motivated to create change, and who have a strong desire for personal leadership growth are invited to apply.  Nominations for the program are also open.  Join us to:  

  • Engage with SMU faculty and education experts  
  • Better align your work with your personal mission   
  • Participate in a dynamic learning environment with a diverse cohort of peers 
  • Network and collaborate with a custom-selected peer group  
  • Use evidence-based assessment and coaching to enhance your leadership skills  
  • Access the latest learning science and gain tools to become a more effective leader 
  • Apply your learning to a real-world challenge within your district 

Leading During a Pandemic 

During the COVID-19 crisis, the peer community and team-based format of District Leadership Fellows has helped participants overcome challenges associated with the pandemic. Here’s what some Fellows said: 

  • “District Leadership Fellows saved me this year in so many ways. I felt like I wasn’t alone.” 
  • “It’s almost like there’s a weight that’s lifted off your shoulders because you’re able to be heard and you’re able to listen to really smart people who are grappling with the same issues.”  
  • “I think it’s nice to know we’re all in the same boat. We all have similar struggles we’re working through in our districts, not only in COVID but just in general. These activities help to keep us focused and accountable.” 
Fellows, facilitators and assistants checking in during a cohort meeting.
Fellows, facilitators and assistants checking in during a cohort meeting.

Program Timeline:

     February, 2021 – Applications open

     March 31, 2021 – Priority applications due

     April and May, 2021 – Rolling admissions

     June 30, 2021 – Applications close

     Summer, 2021 – Strengths assessment

     September 2021 to May 2022 – Cohort and peer group virtual meetings

Eligibility: Superintendents and executive district leaders who report directly to superintendents are invited to apply.

Program Fee: $795

Applications and nominations: Interested in joining the cohort?  Complete your application here.  Know someone who would be a great fit for the program?  Nominate them here.

More information: Download the flyer, visit the Institute for Leadership Impact website, email Christine Ferguson at cjferguson@smu.edu, or call 214-768-1073.

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.

SMU District Leadership Fellows Mark Halfway Point in Fellowship

A year of adversity has brought 20 school leaders from four states closer together.

As school districts continue to weather the economic, political, and public health impacts of COVID-19, a cohort of school leaders have reached the halfway point of their year-long fellowship at SMU.

The 2020-2021 cohort of the District Leadership Fellows, made up of 20 school leaders from four U.S. states, has met exclusively online since it first convened in September. “The pandemic presents us with an unexpected leadership opportunity – to strengthen our leadership skills while building lasting support networks with other leaders we would never have met otherwise. Crises are like that,” said Dr. Eric G. Bing, the cohort’s leader and a professor of global health at SMU. When the pandemic hit, Bing made the decision to move the District Leadership Fellows program online and to offer the program to leaders throughout Texas and the surrounding states.  Bing and his team at the SMU Institute for Leadership Impact will offer the program to leaders in additional states in the 2021-2022 cohort year.

During the first half of the 2020-2021 cohort, Fellows built and refined Impact Models to help spur change and innovation in their districts, and spent time developing their coaching skills.  At a typical meeting, Fellows are divided into small teams and work collaboratively. Sherry Phillips, a Fellow from Danbury ISD, remarked that “I think it’s nice to know we’re all in the same boat. We all have similar struggles we’re working through in our districts, not only in COVID but just in general. These activities help to keep us focused and accountable.”  Building peer networks, another important component of the program, has continued in the online environment.  Peer groups made up of Fellows with complementary strengths have been meeting regularly throughout the semester.

Leaders will continue to meet online with the full cohort and with their peer groups in the spring.  Fellows will also receive support and guidance as they begin implementing their district projects.

Applications for the 2021-2022 cohort of the District Leadership Fellows program will open in January.

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.

District Leadership Fellows Use Mursion Simulation to Develop Motivational Interviewing Skills

“Motivational interviewing is really about active listening, and we can catch and understand so much more if we actively listen. This is a collaborative style of communication.” – Dr. Eric G. Bing

Khechara Bradford using the Mursion simulation to practice a difficult coaching conversation.
Khechara Bradford using the Mursion simulation to practice a difficult coaching conversation.

At the November 6 meeting of the SMU District Leadership Fellows, four cohort members had the opportunity to build their motivational interviewing skills by participating in a counseling simulation developed by Mursion. Khechara Bradford (Chief Academic Officer, Spring ISD), Dr. Gerald Hudson (Superintendent, Cedar Hill ISD), Dr. Deidre Parish (Superintendent, Darrouzett ISD), and Justin Risner (Superintendent, Central ISD) each conducted a short interview with “Linda,” a simulated school administrator who is dealing with work and family issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Mursion is a mixed-reality simulation environment that uses virtual avatars to help train leaders, counselors, coaches, and others to become more effective in difficult interpersonal situations. Researchers at the Simmons School of Education and Human Development use the simulator to support teacher practice, offering pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process. In addition, the simulator has been used to teach motivational interviewing techniques to SMU undergraduates and graduate students in health and counseling classes. 

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.

Applications for Pandemics Course at SMU Now Open

In light of the era-defining COVID-19 pandemic, SMU epidemiologist Dr. Eric G. Bing has created a new undergraduate course focused solely on international diseases and how we can combat them. Pandemics! The Science of Disease Spread, Prevention, and Control (APSM/ANTH/MNO 4344), which kicks off in Spring 2021, will give SMU students the basic tools they need to understand the many factors that drive disease spread and how local and global communities can combat it.  

The interdisciplinary course will offer an interactive, participatory overview of epidemiological principles, using real-world infectious and social pandemics as a backdrop. Through a series of case studies, guest speakers, discussions, and live debates, students will study pandemics, evaluate epidemiological research, and develop evidence-based pandemic response strategies.  

To understand and combat pandemics, epidemiologists think outside the box, using insights from diverse academic disciplines. Therefore, students from all academic disciplines are encouraged to apply, and no background in health is required. The course is a capstone for the Health & Society major.  

Participation in the course is by instructor consent only; submit an application to join the course here or learn more on the course flyer.

To learn more about Institute for Leadership Impact programs, visit our website, email us at leadershipimpact@smu.edu, and engage with us on Twitter.