2022-2023 District Leadership Fellows Cohort Convenes

The 2022-2023 cohort of District Leadership Fellows has begun the year with an in-person meeting at SMU.  

Group photo

After two years entirely online, the Institute for Leadership Impact was delighted to host district leaders from across Texas and Arkansas in-person at SMU for a two-day kick-off for the District Leadership Fellows program.   

People at tables discussing challenge

Program director Dr. G. Bing launched the program by challenging teams of leaders to solve a problem well outside their usual experience.  While planning to slow the health crisis in Africa might seem removed from providing the best education possible to children in the United States, it became clear that the leadership skills needed to solve one challenge applied directly to the other challenge.      

Person smiling

To start day two, fellows engaged in a mindfulness activity, remembering and re-finding their purpose and motivation.  They will keep their larger goal in sight as they move through the year.   

One person interviewing another

Each leader entered the program with a goal in their district they want to accomplish overt the course of the program.  Leaders began by interviewing each other about their district goal, internal and external resources available, and the activities they might carry out to accomplish their goal.  From there, leaders moved on to talking through measuring progress along the way.  Each leader then transferred this information over to an Impact Model.   

Group of people working at a table

Following the kick-off, leaders have been refining their Impact Model in discussion with their district team, and their Peer Group.  The cohort is continuing to meet online, with an in-person winter retreat scheduled in January.   

Group at tables smiling

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

District Leadership Fellows Discuss Enhancing the Superintendent – School Board Relationship

Program alum Dr. Chris Moran shared his wisdom on effectively working with school boards.

Dr. Chris Moran, Superintendent, Whitehouse ISD

At a recent cohort meeting, Dr. Chris Moran, Superintendent of Whitehouse ISD, shared his experiences in enhancing the superintendent – school board relationship.  Drawing on his 30 years in education, including 11 as a school superintendent, Dr. Moran shared with fellows his 10 Commandments for Board Superintendent Relations:

I am the Board, your boss, you should have no strange goals before me
Take the time needed to work with the board to develop a strong strategic plan so everyone is working towards the same shared goals.

Don’t take the name of the board, your boss, in vain
It is so important that the board knows that you respect and value them.  You can do that by investing time with them.

Remember to keep holy the board’s day
Board meeting days, and days leading up to board meetings, should be time to focus and ensure the board meeting is a successful and pleasant experience.  Prepare the board well in advance of big agenda items, starting months in advance if needed.

Honor your Board of Trustees members
Never say a disparaging word about a board member to anyone.  You can be sure it will resurface if you do.

You should not kill your future by picking battles you should not fight
Pick your battles wisely and be a consistent leader.

Don’t commit unfaithful acts against your board
As superintendent you are always on the clock. Dress and act like the superintendent they hired you to be at all times.

Don’t steal the credit
Give credit when credit is due.  Make time daily to give encouragement and recognition to someone in your district.

Don’t bear false witness against your board
Give only solid and accurate information to the board.  Hiding or shading information will ruin trust and destroy relationships.

Don’t covet other people to serve on the board
Serve the board you are given, just bloom where you are planted with the board you have.

Don’t covet your neighbor board’s operating procedures
Develop your district operating procedures with the board, so everyone is on board with the ground rules.

These 10 items provided a basis for the discussion that followed.  Fellows shared their experiences and discussed how to best apply the points raised by Dr. Moran, and others, in their own districts.  Collaboration with peers is one of the key components of the District Leadership Fellows program, and this session provided a great demonstration of that process in action.  

Interested in building your professional network and collaborating with peers?  Apply to join the next cohort.   Click here to learn more and click here to apply.   

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

Creating Impact Serves as Cornerstone of District Leadership Fellows Program

“The District Leadership Fellows Impact Model has been very beneficial for me. It gives me a way to distill big ideas into something that is very concise and easier to communicate.”  Dr. John Tackett, 2020-2021 cohort alum


Dr. Eric Bing working with District Leadership Fellows
Dr. Eric Bing facilitating a group discussion with District Leadership Fellows

The District Leadership Fellows program at SMU, designed for school superintendents and executive district leaders, focuses on creating impact.  Each Fellow enters the program with a leadership project they wish to accomplish over the course of the year.  Early cohort sessions introduce the Impact Model, an organizational framework for thinking through the project, communicating the project to others, and executing the project. Later cohort and coaching sessions offer support and collaboration as Fellows implement their Impact Models.


Dr. Michelle Cline, Superintendent of Throckmorton Collegiate ISD and District Leadership Fellows alum, sat down the Dr. Eric G. Bing, Director of the Institute for Leadership Impact, to talk through the Impact Model and how it helped her achieve goals in her district.  Learn more about her experience in this video.

Interested in joining the next cohort and creating impact in your district?  Click here to learn more and click here to apply

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

2021-2022 Cohort of District Leadership Fellows Celebrate Program Completion

Gratitude, conviction, execution, growth, intentional, accountable and open are words the 2021-2022 cohort will embody as they move forward on their leadership journey.  

Headshots of 27 District Leadership Fellows, 2021-2022 Cohort

At the final meeting of the 2021-2022 cohort of the District Leadership Fellows program, Fellows had the opportunity to celebrate their successes and reflect on their mission and journey.  Fellows read back through their initial thoughts on their mission, and reflected on whether those sentiments still spoke to them.  They had the opportunity to reaffirm or modify their mission, and to talk through how they might strengthen the alignment between their actions and mission to make their work more meaningful and impactful.   

Dr. Debbie Atwell, Superintendent, Mountainburg Public Schools

Dr. Debbie Atwell began the discussion on the cohort’s leadership journeys by speaking on her passion for her work in Mountainburg Public Schools. The cohort then reflected on their own leadership journeys, what they will take with them as they move forward, and how they have grown as leaders.   
Congratulations to the 2021-2022 cohort of District Leadership Fellows!  We are proud of you and wish you continued success and growth on your leadership journeys. 

Interested in joining the next cohort to develop your leadership skills?  Click here to learn more and click here to apply.   

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 2022-2023 District Leadership Fellows

“District Leadership Fellows is such a helpful program to not only connect with other school leaders, but also gain insight from Dr. Bing. He brings a different view and lens to school leaders.” – Dr. Michelle Cline, Superintendent, Throckmorton Collegiate ISD, Texas 


Applications are open for the 2022-2023 cohort of the District Leadership Fellows, a hybrid in-person and online 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 applyFellows will apply learning from cohort meetings, peer group meetings and interactive tutorials to a real-world challenge in their districts. 

  • Receive individual and group coaching 
  • Participate in a dynamic online environment 
  • Learn from SMU faculty and education experts 
  • Engage with in-house interactive training modules 
  • Enhance your leadership skills 
  • Better align your work with your personal mission 
  • Apply your learning to a real-world challenge in your district 
  • Expand your network and collaborate with a diverse cohort of peers 

Program Timeline 
  • January 20, 2022 Applications open 
  • March 31, 2022– Priority applications deadline 
  • April -May, 2022 – Rolling applications
  • June 30, 2022Application deadline
  • Summer, 2022 – Strengths assessment
Updated Provisional Schedule 

Fall 2022 

  • In-person kick-off 
  • 2-hour biweekly cohort meetings online 
  • 1-hour biweekly Peer Group meetings online 

Spring 2023 

  • In-person winter retreat
  • 1-hour monthly Peer Group meetings online

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

Program Fee: $995 

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 program 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. 

District Leadership Fellows Reach Halfway Point and Focus on Creating Impact

I can go almost directly to that goal, without leaving and going back and forth  …..and I contribute that model with just keeping us focused and determined and driven.   Dr. Michelle Cline, Superintendent, Throckmorton Collegiate ISD.

The 2021-2022 cohort of District Leadership Fellows have reached the halfway point of this year’s program.  Leaders are developing their skills, learning new communication techniques, and using an Impact Model to create change in their districts.     

Dr. Debbie Atwell talking with avatar Linda
Dr. Debbie Atwell, Superintendent, Mountainburg Public Schools using the mixed-reality teaching simulation.

Fellows have been learning and practicing a communication technique called Active Listening.  Fellows had the opportunity to practice Active Listening using a mixed-reality teaching simulation called Mursion. Using the simulation provides an opportunity to practice skills in a safe environment, and to pause the simulation to receive real-time feedback and coaching.  

District Leaders have also been working through the components of an Impact Model for their individual problems of practice.  They have been:

  • Framing a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed (SMART) 
  • Analyzing available resources available as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) 
  • Brainstorming and selecting key activities that will produce the most results (80:20 Rule) 
  • Evaluating measures to ensure the key activities are being carried out and producing the expected results (Lead and Lag Measures) 
Photo of Dr. Michelle Cline in her office
Dr. Michelle Cine, Superintendent, Throckmorton Collegiate ISD

2019-2020 and 2021-2022 cohort member Dr. Michelle Cline of Throckmorton Collegiate ISD cited the Impact Model with helping her think through, analyze and explain all the components that contribute to getting to her goal.     

In the new year, Fellows will provide an update on their projects, and receive continued support as they implement their models.   

Interested in joining the next cohort? Email Christine Ferguson at cjferguson@smu.edu to receive updates.  Applications for the 2022-2023 cohort will open in the new year.   

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

2021-2022 District Leadership Fellows Cohort Convenes

Twenty-seven district leaders have kicked off the 2010-2022 District Leadership Fellows cohort with an online meeting.  

District Leadership Fellows cohort convenes

Leaders from Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas and New York have kicked off the 2021-2022 cohort of District Leadership Fellows program with an online meeting.  After a quick welcome, the leaders jumped right into a leadership challenge before introducing themselves and their districts.    

Fellows have been taking a deep dive into goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound (SMART).  They have been working through the resources available to them in their district and communities as Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT).  Fellows will be incorporating this information into an Impact Model for a problem of practice in their district.

Part of Impact Model

Fellows will add activities and lead and lag measures to their model.  Peer Group meetings, along with group and individual coaching, will provide ongoing support and encouragement as leaders update and implement their Impact Models as the year continues.  

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 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