SPS, ODU collaborate on staff leadership program

Published 6:14 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

Suffolk Public Schools is partnering with Old Dominion University in a new program to develop its future district leadership.

“Lead SPS” is described as focusing on the development of current and future leaders for the city’s schools.

Chief of Schools Dr. Stenette Byrd III shared the project information with the School Board during its Thursday, April 6 meeting.


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“It’s a professional development designed for Suffolk Public School leaders,” Byrd said. “We seek to provide opportunities for our principals and our assistant principals and all leaders within the division to step away from their current role and receive training aimed at leading individuals and departments.”

Programs included for current leaders are quarterly leadership development meetings; Coffee Break, a program that offers a time where formal and informal leaders can come together and be intentional about discussions around a leadership topic, as well as a summer administrative retreat, he said.

Included programs for aspiring leaders are the teacher leader development series to provide teacher leaders with the skills to support teachers and their building, and star leadership, a program that provides opportunities for both non-academic staff and high school junior/senior students to grow as leaders, Byrd said.

Dr. Karen Sanzo, Old Dominion University professor of educational foundations and leadership, discussed more about the partnership with ODU. Called the SPS-ODU Aspiring Leaders Cohort Program, it allows students to start in fall 2023 and graduate in May 2025.

“So what this looks like is students in our program will be educators from your division and they would graduate with a master’s or an education specialist degree,” Sanzo said. “The degree depends upon what degree they have entering the program and the Education Specialist is a postmasters degree.”

Sanzo said the program prepares SPS educators specifically for the context of the city’s school division. 

“This is the program that we have on campus, but we’re able to tailor the courses, the instructional design, the experiences that your teachers and other staff would have specifically to your division, and it also leads to full licensure to become school leaders in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” she said. “We’re able to have both the conceptual knowledge as well as the theoretical knowledge in the program and apply it specifically to experiences in the classrooms and in the buildings in Suffolk Public Schools.”

Included career pathways for ODU Lead Monarch Students are principal, assistant principal, lead teacher and instructional coaches. Program cost is $14,200 for the tuition and additional fees, based on the current rates set by the Board of Visitors. Students can receive a 25% discount on credit tuition as part of the program.

Following the presentation, School Board member Phyllis Byrum asked about the reimbursement of tuition.

“Some of the tuition, Dr. Gordon, would be reimbursable possibly through school funding? I wanted you to address that,” Byrum asked.

Superintendent Dr. John Gordon III responded by describing that it is different from what they did with the University of Virginia.

“The reimbursable tuition that we originally did with the University of Virginia was for the summer residency. As Dr. Sanzo mentioned with this cohort model, they are already getting a 25% discount,” Gordon said. “So the school division would work towards providing locations for courses for classes to take place, free of charge.”

Gordon said they also have virtual options with the ODU Tri-City center that they use for some meetings. 

“So maybe not in this budget year, but maybe in future budget years,” he said. “We may be able to add some tuition reimbursement on there.”

School Board Chairman Tyron Riddick commended Byrum on her question and the importance of training to retain good staff.

“I believe this is a golden opportunity for us to grow our own, yet retain our own. So if that is something that the board would be interested in, I understand that the budget is kind of tight right now,” Riddick said. “If that is something that we can look at.:

Riddick said the feasibility contingent factors may evolve later because they know the benefits the district will see.

“I understand that it’s challenging times, especially with the current climate as far as budget between us and the city, but if we don’t put the money where our mouth is, you lose quality people,” he said. “And we want to retain them. Our staff goes above and beyond and for them to take on this extra duty to further themselves. I understand that it’s an investment for them as well as our division, but I want us to make sure we put some economic value behind it that they can see some benefits from immediately.”