“[As a superintendent] I can impact that many more students through the impact I make on my directors and principals. – Shawn Thurman, online Superintendent Certification student   

Shawn Thurman, Director of Special Education for the Mount Adams School District in Washington state, oversees a broad spectrum of programs including Title IX, 504, and Highly Capable. As he speaks with us, he’s also completing UT Permian Basin’s online Superintendent Certification after just eight months in the program. Thurman was kind enough to share his motivation for seeking certification and the distinct benefits that attracted him to UTPB’s program. He also offered some advice for potential Superintendent Certification students. 

A Longtime Leader in Education Yearns to Give More 

Thurman has dedicated his life to his field. “This is my 24th year in education,” he said. “I started out as a para educator—teacher’s aide—became a teacher, became a curriculum and assessment director in a small district. Moved on to state and federal programs running grants, fiscal. Became a high school principal. And now special education director.” At present, Thurman’s major focus is implementing inclusionary practices. “It’s [about] how you design your activities so that everybody can access the standard that’s being taught.” 

All his experience and responsibilities considered, Thurman felt there was more he could offer and realized that superintendent certification was his pathway to achieving that goal. “With every move I’ve made in my career, it’s shown me that I can have a different impact on all of the kids in the district,” he said. “And I see myself, as a superintendent, being able to have that much greater impact because I have influence over all those positions that I’ve held over my career. Bottom line, I want to make a difference for kids.” 

Finding an Affordable, Accessible, High-Quality Certification Program 

When Thurman began looking at programs, he wasn’t happy with what he saw. “I started here in Washington state. One of our universities offers a two-year program that requires you to travel on weekends to different locations in the state. The cost is over $20,000. Several programs were like that. A good friend of mine who’s a high school principal up in Yakima said ‘Shawn, you need to check out University of Texas. I got my superintendent credentials there. It was a great program.’” 

“I started looking at programs in Texas,” Thurman continued, “and The University of Texas Permian Basin was the only online program that would allow people from outside of Texas to join.” Though cost and accessibility were factors, Thurman was primarily concerned with program quality. “I didn’t want to just buy a certificate online. I wanted to learn and get the most out of my money. If I’m going to invest in my education, I want to make sure that it’s not just ‘show up online once a week and we’ll call you done.’ And that has not been this program. It’s been a great program.” 

When asked if he found his online professors accessible, Thurman didn’t hesitate: “Yes, and not just responsive during office hours. Responsive anytime. On weekends, after hours. What I’ve loved is I can just send [my professor] a Teams message and he gets back to me right away. When I’ve had face-to-face classes with professors, they’re not available on weekends or on holidays. [My current professor] has made himself available pretty much all the time.” 

A Standout Course  

Thurman feels one course in particular has been extremely valuable in setting his expectations about a future superintendency: EDLD 6473 Superintendency & the School Board. “Going through that class,” he explained, “it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, superintendents meet with the board regularly, sometimes multiple times a week, keeping them informed.’ And the lines of communication have to be crystal clear and two-way so that the superintendent is giving the board what they need so that they can make informed decisions. [The class] opened your eyes because you don’t know what you don’t know. You can only make assumptions.” 

Recommendations and Some Words of Encouragement 

Would Thurman recommend the Superintendent Certification program to others? “I already have,” he explained. “My best friend’s a principal at Eisenhower High School in Yakima. And he said, ‘Hey, I need information on that superintendent program you’re in.’ So, I sent him the link and he’s wanting to start next year.” Thurman has also recommended the program to other nearby colleagues and friends in education, and he offered a few words of advice for future students of the program: “Watch some YouTube videos on how to access [online learning management system] Canvas. You’re going to have to schedule time to get the coursework done. You can’t expect to do it just in the evenings. It’s going to be a time commitment.” 

Thurman has ultimately found the time and effort he’s put into the program rewarding. “The level of rigor has been outstanding. Especially with the conversations. Other students will post their conversations, I’ll post mine and I’ll go back and read them, and it just gets me thinking differently. Whereas if I’m sitting face-to-face in a room with people, it’s a lot easier to sit back and be quiet and not participate in the discussion. The online program forced me to participate in the discussion, which was great because it expanded my thinking.” 

If you’re like Shawn Thurman and want to advance into a leadership role that can make an even larger impact for your school district, our online Superintendent Certification program can help you achieve your goal. Request more information and apply here.