School administrators by day; students by night
Howard Townsend ’98, M.Ed. ’11, Ed.D. ’20 and Anna Thomas ’02, Ed.D. ’19 have a passion for education but neither expected to be leading a high school while simultaneously earning their doctorates in education. But thanks to the School of Education’s flexible Ed.D. programs, which allow working practitioners to earn their doctoral degrees in as little as three years, they’re both doing just that. Each has an extensive resume working in local public schools and at the start of this school year, became the interim principal and interim assistant principal at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg.
A love of learning and teaching inspired their career path and their desire to obtain a doctorate, though neither says they could have imagined working at a high school when they were their students’ age. Townsend says that even though he did not always like school, he found the learning process to be empowering and uplifting, especially as a teacher and coach helping others find their voice, passion, and skill set.
Thomas had a similar experience. “I did not choose the education life,” she says. “It chose me even after I constantly rebuffed my parents’ requests to consider the teaching profession.” After graduation, a series of jobs led her to working in special education, a field that fulfilled both her need for creativity and passion for advocacy.
Throughout their careers, William & Mary has been a mainstay and a guiding light for both school leaders. As undergraduates, Townsend was an English major and Thomas majored in literacy and cultural studies. With a little push of support from their families, they have both now returned to William & Mary to pursue a doctorate.
“The College’s influence in my life came at different stages,” says Townsend. “For my undergraduate degree, William & Mary helped to focus my life experiences into a personal and professional vision. The ideas of civic duty, responsibility to equity, and deeper understandings stayed with me. The next two degrees marked changes in my professional life. I love teaching and learning, but most importantly, I love the people who are passionate about these things.” He decided to pursue both his master’s and doctoral degrees at William & Mary, he says, “to support educators who share my passion for teaching and learning. William & Mary has been there for me on every step of this journey.”
Thomas also found William & Mary to be a place that was supportive beyond the classroom—one that for her feels like home. “W&M represents the start of my life as a scholar, when I started taking ownership of my learning.” After graduating from Old Dominion University with a master’s degree, she wasted no time in returning to William & Mary a month later for her doctorate — no small feat and one that could not have happened without the support of her family. Now that she is approaching graduation this winter, her family jokes that she may not be ready to leave her home just yet as William & Mary has meant so much to her.
Both have found it beneficial to work with other students and graduates from a university that promotes respect for scholarship and learning. From discussing theory learned in class to completing their dissertations, Townsend and Thomas have found the crucial support needed to achieve an advanced degree while continuing to work full-time.
Now as they work towards graduation, their hard work is paying off — both stepped into new roles at Jamestown High School at the beginning of this school year. Each brings with them important lessons learned. For Townsend, one impactful lesson about the power of listening came from his years in elementary school. He did not understand its importance at the time but practicing the art of listening has made him a better leader. “Listening is hard because we may want to interject or try to make someone else’s perspective fit a preconceived idea or experience. Listening to students, teachers, parents, and community members who have diverse experiences and try to understand how they see the high school helps me manage such a comprehensive place.”
Thomas has discovered that the best lessons for her have come from her experiences working in special education because it goes beyond curriculum planning and teaching to advocating for the students — skills needed in a school leadership role.
The Executive Ed.D. at the William & Mary School of Education offers an alternative format to better meet the needs of working practitioners and offers concentrations in gifted education, higher education, K-12 administration and school psychology. Designed for educators with master's degrees who are currently serving in or seeking administrative roles, the program is based on a scholarly-practitioner model of theory, inquiry and practice. Learn more.