The Graduate School of Education recently asked Fordham alumnus and Valley Stream District #30 (Long Island, NY) Superintendent of Schools, Nicholas A. Stirling, to reflect on his time as a scholar in the GSE’s Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy (ELAP) division, where he received both his Ph.D. and an advanced certificate, plus served as an adjunct professor.
Stirling is the first African American to be appointed Superintendent of Schools in Valley Stream and recently began his tenure as the first African American male President-Elect of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents. During 2018, Stirling was named Educator of the Year by the Long Island Black Educators Association and honored by the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs for his service to the community in the field of education.
We share his insights into a Fordham GSE education below.
GSE: You have served in many capacities during your career as an educator. What impact and influence did your time at Fordham have on your current educational philosophy and the way you approach your work?
Stirling: Based on my research and the application process for the Graduate School of Education, it was clear that Fordham is an institution that values the individuals applying to the university. The education at Fordham emphasized what the individual could contribute and bring to the class, program, and/or university.
As an example, my doctoral cohort consisted of leaders from PreK-12 education, higher education, catholic education and business. The diversity of intellectual exchange reinforced the importance of academic rigor and understanding through the lens of others. The faculty was very focused on supporting students’ goals and assisting them to graduate from the program. Each student’s life and work experience, individuality, and potential were central to learning and leadership development.
Thus, my philosophy of education focuses on the idea that all children are unique individuals who have the ability to learn and contribute in diverse ways. Concentrating on what children know, can do and potentially do should guide educators to develop the means by which children will master learning goals based on specific standards. Fordham instilled in me the importance of relationships and how they impact learning and work.
Finally, the trend toward defining or redefining outcomes, coupled with redesigning curriculum, instruction, and assessments, helps schools develop a wider range of student talents at higher levels of performance for all. The challenge for administrators and teachers is to be inclusive and equitable in order to help all students develop full, accurate concepts and a deep understanding of ideas and relationships as a basis for content learning in the present and future technological age.
GSE: You were an adjunct professor at Fordham University and received your doctorate and professional diploma while at the Graduate School of Education. What were some of the most memorable experiences you had and/or professional relationships you were able to build at Fordham? What do you still find most valuable about what you learned?
Stirling: My professional relationship with the chair at the time, Dr. Barbara Jackson, has had a lasting effect on me. She was the only African American professor that I had in my higher education career. Her life story and personal encouragement, to not only do the work well, but also to complete the program, gave me the drive to finish my Ph.D. in four years. Her mere presence signaled to students of color that you ”Can Do It,” and addressed the fact that leadership roles in higher education are not exclusive to any one group of people.
My relationship with my dissertation chair, Dr. Bruce Cooper, was also inspiring. His questioning, divergent thinking, and humor continually challenged my thinking and encouraged me to do better work. I would drop off parts of my dissertation at his home for review in the middle of the night (at his request) and have feedback available by early sunrise. Dr. Cooper’s work ethic provided a standard that I wanted to live up to. Overall, the expectations of the entire faculty were always about excellence and your personal commitment to achieving it.
What I find most valuable about attending Fordham and teaching at Fordham is the understanding that relationships matter and I matter. Regularly, I reflect on how I am making a difference and how I can better my relationships with colleagues, students, community, family and friends.
GSE: Are there other insights you’d like to share about why Fordham GSE was a good educational fit for you?
Stirling: Fordham GSE had a very good balance between theory and practice. Real-life work experiences were central to the understanding of theory. Being able to reference personal experiences when studying and discussing leadership styles or being able to challenge specific theories with actual experiences created an environment that you wanted to return to each week. Having the opportunity to apply theory to practice and then reflecting on the experience with fellow students helped me to become a better practitioner. This model was also used when I taught in the master’s program. I designed the classes to highlight student experiences and balance theory and practice. My students learned a great deal not only from the text but also from each other.
The cohort model was also a positive dimension of the program. Having fellow practitioners to share ideas, debate, support and do project-based assignments with aligned well with my learning style and need for interaction with people.
Nicholas A. Stirling, Ph.D., has been the Valley Stream District #30 Superintendent of Schools since August 2012. He is credited with maintaining high academic expectations and performance for all students.