School & District Management

Answered Prayer

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 20, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Position: Superintendent, Benton Harbor, Mich., public schools since July 2002

Former job: Vice president of global marketing, AT&T, in Omaha, Neb.

Broad Superintendents Academy, 2002

Benton Harbor, Mich.: Paula Dawning, a former AT&T executive, was the first Broad Superintendents Academy graduate hired as a schools chief. This year, she was named Michigan’s superintendent of the year.
—Left: Photo by Erika Dufour/Right: Photo by Mark Bialek for Education Week

Benton Harbor, Mich.: Paula Dawning, a former AT&T executive, was the first Broad Superintendents Academy graduate hired as a schools chief. This year, she was named Michigan's superintendent of the year.

Paula Dawning wanted a new career, a job that would let her “give something back.” Working for a cancer foundation, she thought. Or the American Diabetes Association.

“But something quite unusual happened,” said Ms. Dawning, 56. “On the same day I was praying and fasting over what to do next, a friend sent me an e-mail about the Broad program.”

So Ms. Dawning, who had not considered becoming a superintendent, applied. Six months later, she was in the Broad Superintendents Academy’s inaugural class and had already landed her job, besting six other finalists who were all career educators.

Ms. Dawning arrived in Benton Harbor, Mich., a district of 5,300 students who are poor and mostly African-American, in July 2002 and immediately went to work on moving the low, stagnant test scores.

The proportion of Benton Harbor 4th graders who scored at the proficient level or higher in language arts has risen from 38.8 percent in 2001 to 77 percent last year. In mathematics, the figure rose from 45.6 percent to 71 percent in 2004. In 2003, the former telecommunications executive steered the district to its first successful vote for a property-tax increase in 17 years, which will raise more than $6 million for building repairs and improvements.

The Michigan Association of School Administrators named Ms. Dawning state superintendent of the year for 2006, cementing her status as one of the Broad Academy’s success stories. In fact, she was the first graduate to be hired as a superintendent.

Ms. Dawning said in an interview that the academy exposed her to “some of the smartest people in the field” and to the latest research—resources she said she has tapped repeatedly.

Ramon C. Cortines, a former schools chief in New York City and San Francisco, is her Broad-assigned “executive coach.” The foundation helped Ms. Dawning pay the district’s costs for joining the Cambridge, Mass.-based District Management Council, which is offering management advice to her team.

Last year, she was one of four finalists vying to become the superintendent in St. Louis. But she is circumspect about her next move, saying only, “I am committed to the children in this district.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Answered Prayer


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Why Principals Need to Talk About the Israel-Hamas War With Our Teachers
What can we do when a difficult topic is brought up by students in classrooms? First, don’t leave teachers to handle it in isolation.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
5 min read
Stylized photo illustration of a teacher feeling pressured as she is questioned by her students.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management Sometimes Principals Need to Make Big Changes. Here’s How to Get Them to Stick
School leaders need their community to take a leap of faith with them. But how do they build trust and conviction?
8 min read
Image of a leader reflecting on past and future.
akindo/DigitalVision Vectors
School & District Management A New Study Details Gender and Racial Disparities in the Superintendent's Office
Women and people of color are less likely than their white male counterparts to be appointed superintendent directly from a principal post.
6 min read
A conceptual image of a female being paid less than a male.
hyejin kang/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Late Arrivals, Steep Costs: Why Some Districts Ditch Third-Party Bus Companies
Districts are facing a host of transportation challenges. Some have addressed them by deciding to bring buses back in house.
6 min read
School buses parked in Helena, Mont., ahead of the beginning of the school year on Aug. 20, 2021.
Some districts are pulling back on decisions to outsource bus services in an effort to save money and improve service.
Iris Samuels/AP