A renewed perspective: A conversation with Sara Quay

From Sara Quay’s very first day in college, she knew where she was headed: to a career in higher education. What she didn’t know was just how quickly she’d be able to make that dream a reality.

“I thought it might take me a little bit longer, but life kind of throws you in,” said Quay, dean of the School of Education at Endicott College in northern Massachusetts and a 2017 Impact Academy fellow. “I thought it would be later in my career that I would get to do some of the work I’ve been doing for the last 18 years.”

Quay joined Endicott College at a time of change for the institution, and as a result, she advanced quickly, taking over the deanship after just three years at the College.

Now, Quay’s role is again in a period of change. Externally, U.S. teacher preparation is in a period of flux, as programs grapple with how to demonstrate their impact. In Massachusetts, a state leading the way on how to think about 21st century educator training, programs are facing a number of changes, including new professional standards for teachers, evaluation tools for student teaching and revamped program evaluation and review – all of which requires an increased emphasis on using data to support program improvement and design.

“We have to document that our graduates are ready to teach, and that’s new,” Quay said. “It’s not like I was trained to do that; I’m having to learn how to do that.”

Internally, the undergraduate education programs, which Quay has been overseeing for 16 years, have merged with the graduate programs, which historically were run separately. One of the most immediate challenges facing Quay is how to combine the two very different cultures within the undergraduate and graduate programs. The undergraduate program has faculty and staff who have worked together for years without a lot of turnover, while the graduate program has almost entirely new staff and faculty.

“It’s almost like the Venn diagram,” Quay said. “I’m trying to foster a shared culture in the middle where two groups overlap, without stifling the uniqueness of each.”

The external and internal pressures facing Endicott create an exciting opportunity – Quay sees it as a chance to create a “coherent school of education” – but it’s also a big task. And going into the Impact Academy fellowship, Quay said she really wasn’t sure of the best next steps from all the transitions of the previous academic year.

“I just really didn’t know quite where to go next as a leader,” she said.

Absent the Impact Academy, Quay said she still would have done something, she “would have made some step.” But at the Impact Academy kick-off in Dallas, Quay’s learning team – a group of other fellows and a dean coach – helped her develop an action plan that’s connected to larger strategic goals. Now Quay said she is taking steps that are intentional and aligned to a larger plan designed to move the School of Education forward.

“Usually I’m focused on regulations, courses and staffing, things like that,” Quay said. “The Impact Academy really pushed me to realize that I need to be thinking about our mission, our vision, our norms. It’s helped me be more strategic about what I need to do next to create a coherent school of education, and that’s extremely exciting to me.”

Simultaneously, she’s also continuing to shift the focus of her school from inputs to outcomes. This is a move Quay sees as very positive – but she recognizes it is also a new area for everyone in her program. She’s been working on gradually shifting the culture over the past four or five years, but one thing the Impact Academy helped her realize is that it’s OK as a leader to say: this is what we’re doing.

“You can’t change everyone’s minds … but there are great things that can come from a focus on outcomes,” Quay said.

Being a dean can be a lonely role – and being an education dean comes with an extra dose of pressure and complexity thanks to the public scrutiny paid to the country’s education system, according to Quay.

“I was eager to find a group of deans who are also interested in having a positive impact on educator preparation and not just letting change happen to us,” Quay said. “Impact Academy renewed my perspective and helped me feel supported.”

For more information on Impact Academy and becoming a fellow, click here.

Charis Anderson

Senior Director of Communications

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