School & District Management

Answered Prayer

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 20, 2006 2 min read

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

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD

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 Pandemic Recovery Will Be Complex. We’ll Need the Best School Leaders
To face the education challenges of today and tomorrow, we must invest in the principal pipeline, writes Michael J. Petrilli.
Michael J. Petrilli
4 min read
Leader pointing hand forward, directing boat forward through corona virus crisis
iStock / Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion The Year of Scourges: How I Survived Illness and Racism to Find My 'Tribe'
A Black school leader reflects on the hardest year of her professional life.
Reba Y. Hodge
4 min read
new growth on a bare tree
Vanessa Solis/Education Week & Getty Images
School & District Management From Our Research Center How the Pandemic Is Shaping K-12 Education (in Charts)
Surveys by the EdWeek Research Center show how schools have changed during the pandemic and what adjustments are likely to stick.
Eric DiVito gives breathing instructions as he teaches a remote music class at the Osborn School on Oct. 6, 2020, in Rye, N.Y.
Eric DiVito gives breathing instructions as he teaches a remote music class at the Osborn School in Rye, N.Y., last fall.
Mary Altaffer/AP
School & District Management Opinion Ed. Leaders: Discuss Race, Call Out White Supremacy
Downplaying the realities of racism leads to misunderstanding school problems and developing inadequate solutions.
John B. Diamond & Jennifer Cheatham
5 min read
Hand writing the word racism on blackboard. Stop hate. Against prejudice and violence. Lecture about discrimination in school.
Tero Vesalainen/iStock/Getty