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Ten experiences that provide insight into Dr. Quinn’s career as an educator

Under the Clinton administration, each of the 50 chief state school officers was asked to nominate two principals; and from that group of 100, Dr. Quinn was selected through a competitive process to be a special advisor on matters of educational leadership to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley. In the summer of 1996, she and her family packed their suitcases and headed across the country from one Washington to the other; and Dr. Quinn exchanged a grass roots view of education for a panoramic perspective from the highest office of learning in the land. Her year in the country’s capital provided her with an incredible education about the world of policy and politics. She worked on such initiatives as the Technology Challenge Grants, the establishment of the E-Rate, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the national reading initiative, development of standards for professional development, Vice President Gore’s school construction initiative, and President Clinton’s Call to Action for Education. She served as the liaison between the Department of Education and the two national principals’ organizations, NASSP and NAESP. She worked with staff at NEA, American Youth Policy Forum, and the White House. She attended and presented at dozens of conferences and meetings and hosted scores of principals, teachers, and superintendents from around the country when they visited the Department on various business.
She has been a member of two National Faculties: (1) the Four Seasons National Faculty for Authentic Assessment (a partnership of four school reform organizations: the Coalition of Essential Schools; the Foxfire Teacher Outreach Network; Harvard’s Project Zero; and the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Columbia) and (2) the Annenberg Institute’s National School Reform Faculty. During her tenure as its principal, Puyallup High School became the 206th member of the Coalition of Essential Schools. Dr. Quinn was among the first group of educators in the country to be trained as a Critical Friends Group Coach at Brown University, and at one point her high school had the largest number of trained CFG coaches of any school anywhere. Her work has allowed her to collaborate with such incredible educators as Ted Sizer, Howard Gardner, Joe McDonald, John Goodlad, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, Ann Lieberman, and Daniel Baron. More recently, Ferndale was selected as one of 20 Signature Districts to be part of a national consortium called Project RED (for Revolutionizing EDucation) that is working both to guide and to track the impacts of one-to-one technology in schools. Dr. Quinn participates regularly with several dozen superintendents in a national group called School Research Nexus. She serves on the editorial board of NASSP’s juried professional journal, the Bulletin. In short, she has demonstrated a lifelong passion for seeking out the best ideas about how to improve schools and the educators who are willing to grapple with those ideas.
When she returned to Washington State at the end of her term as Principal in Residence, she was presented with another rare opportunity. She was asked to assume the role of planning principal for a brand new large comprehensive high school. Saying yes launched her into another series of amazing learning experiences that culminated with the opening of Emerald Ridge High School in the fall of 2000. During the two years prior to its opening, she worked with a 12-member Lead Team to (1) consider the educational needs of our school community in light of 21st century standards; (2) meet with and gather input from hundreds of students, parents, community members, business representatives, and fellow educators; and (3) investigate as much of the current research and as many of the most successful existing models of high school education as they could. Seven years later, in 2007, she was recruited to northern California to open a small Early College High School on Sierra Community College’s Grass Valley campus. Through this very different new school experience, she became part of a coalition made up of the leaders of a dozen similar start-up schools throughout California, all of whom were receiving funding for research and development from the Gates Foundation, and all of whom were searching for the best ways to implement a set of promising practices for improving secondary education. When Dr. Quinn took the job in Ferndale, she had the opportunity to work with another Gates-initiated small school program called Windward, which at that time was operating as a subset of the district’s larger high school. Although WHS had implemented some wonderful educational ideas and developed some avid supporters, the district did not have a plan for sustaining it once the grant dollars had run out. Despite the economic challenges of the past five years, Dr. Quinn was able to help reinvent Windward as a separate and sustainable small high school option.
During the first half of her career, the school self-study and accreditation processes conducted under the auspices of one of the country’s six regional accrediting agencies were among the few systematic school improvement routes available to educational leaders. During the 1980s, under her leadership, Aylen Junior High became the second junior high in Washington to be accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. Shortly after, Dr. Quinn was invited to join the Washington State Committee of NWASC. Within a few years, she became one of four Washington Commissioners on NWASC’s seven-state Commission on Schools, and eventually she assumed the role of Chair of the Commission. Through this work, she was first introduced to standards-based assessment on a school-wide level. She worked with a research and design team to create standards for the accreditation of on-line schools. She assisted hundreds of school leaders in conducting self-studies within their organizations and facilitated dozens of reviews by outside teams. She also consulted with a number of national and international schools in Mexico, Canada, China, and Egypt.
In the early 1990s, under her leadership Puyallup High School was recognized as a national frontrunner for integrating and applying technology across the curriculum. Dr. Quinn’s accomplishments in this area were among the factors that led to her selection as Principal in Residence at the U.S. Department of Education, where she worked closely with the Secretary’s Technology Advisor, Linda Roberts, to advance national policies and programs aimed at getting more computers used more effectively in more schools. During her tenure as its superintendent, the Ferndale School District has become the first in the region to develop and implement a one-to-one technology model for all students as part of an equity agenda. Because of this work, the district was selected in 2012 as one of 20 “forward-thinking strategic allies” to become a Signature District with Project RED: Revolutionizing Education, the group that conducted the first major national research study on academic results and financial implications of educational technology. As a Project RED Signature District, Ferndale is now part of a second round of research focused on achieving second-order, transformational change in schools.
Throughout her career, she has facilitated many conference sessions, workshops, and classes for teachers, certificated staff, principals, and superintendents. One of her favorite teaching experiences was at Pacific Lutheran University, where she was an adjunct professor for five years in two master’s programs, one for aspiring teachers and one for teachers desiring to become principals. She has always worked to develop and refine her facilitation skills. At the U.S. Department of Education, she earned a reputation as a good group facilitator, and people from all parts of the organization were asked her to assist them with facilitating meetings among business leaders, executive directors, policy makers, and school administrators from all over the country. In her current role as superintendent, she strives to make every meeting with the administrative team a learning opportunity and an example of effective instruction (as opposed to an oral list of announcements), and she has set the expectation that principals work to do the same with their own staffs. She believes in the importance of practicing what we preach.
Her first degree is in English with an emphasis on writing, and she taught writing for six years to college-bound high school seniors. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of the pen; and she has collected numerous examples of the way her ability not only to do the work, but also to write about it, has served the organizations in which she has worked. In the Puyallup School District, she wrote nearly three million dollar’s worth of successful grants over a ten-year period of time (while doing other full-time jobs). To enhance this aspect of her work, her former district sent her to a one-week grant-writing course put on by Research Associates in 2002. As a result, she is a certified grant writer.
Because school financing in Washington State is dependent on local levies and capital bond elections, she has been forced to become very familiar with the election process. She has run a number of campaigns, both from the information side and the advocacy side. She has a good understanding of school finance, laws related to school elections, and of a wide variety of public engagement strategies. She has also had plenty of firsthand experience with the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.
Before she found her passion in education, she thought she wanted to be an artist. As it has turned out, her art has become an integral part of her work as an educational leader and a skill set she uses every day. Most classrooms in the Ferndale School District have one or more posters on the wall that she created. At the conclusion of her first year as superintendent in Ferndale, she illustrated a 25-foot-long chronicle of the district’s work over the past 12 months to assist the administrative team in their debriefing process. She has developed a special brand of note taking that has become her hallmark, and she has turned her note taking style into a workshop for district students called Artful Learning: Making Meaning through Doodles, Drawings, Designs, Scribbles, Sketches, and Storyboards. She has also done Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation at large and small meetings. In 2006, she attended a three-day workshop with David Sibbit, President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International, a group that specializes in using graphics for leadership development, strategic visioning, organizational change, and futures study. (Included here is a picture of a recent graphic recording done at a meeting of 100+ social studies teachers at the Bill and Melinda Gates Visitor Center in Seattle on February 7, 2015.)
She explains that, “getting a doctorate was always on my bucket list, but for many years it had to compete with a host of other priorities. Once my own two children, now 31 and 27, had been launched, and my very supportive husband of nearly 40 years had finished his doctorate in pharmacy, it was finally my time.” She selected the University of Washington’s Leadership for Learning (L4L) Ed.D. program for two reasons. First, she was attracted to its clear focus on equity, social justice, and leadership for change. Second, she liked the fact that it was tailored for practitioners working in the field, since she definitely considers herself a practitioner. During her four years in the program, she learned side-by-side with a cohort of 34 incredible educators, many of whom were looking toward future roles as superintendents. Since she was hired into her current position during the first year of the program, and thereby became the only acting superintendent in the group, for her none of the class projects were practice problems. She says she often said that her overarching research question was “How do I become an effective superintendent by tomorrow morning?” The focus of her capstone project was on transforming a school district central office to ensure its primary and most prevalent purpose is supporting teaching and learning.