Alumni Spotlight: Skip Wilhoit, Ed.D.

Professional headshot of Skip Wilhoit, Ed.D.Skip Wilhoit, Ed.D. was recently awarded a $2.7 million dollar grant to benefit his K-12 school district. Here, he gives details about the grant he won, and how he used his real-life experience to shape his educational journey.

Tell us a little about yourself and what kind of work you do

After I served in the Army, I spent the first part of my civilian career in education as a teacher and coach. After that, I explored other options in TV and radio broadcasting, and I eventually found my way back into education. In 2002, I started work at the school district level, in the federal Safe and Drug-Free schools program. One of the major initiatives at that time was not just substance abuse prevention, but also prevention and intervention strategies to address bullying.

For the last 15 years, I have expanded my work with bullying and branched out into other areas including violence prevention, school discipline, and school climate issues. I have spent all of my nearly 25-year career in education proudly serving my hometown school district.

Have you been able to apply what you have been learning in the Ed.D. program?

Yes, I’ve been able to integrate the majority of my work experience into my Ed.D. dissertation. I’m doing a case study on our efforts to transform the climate of our school district. The research focuses on an instrument that I created to assess school climate called the Transformational Assessment of School Quality (TASQ).

The TASQ represents a unique approach to assessing school climate and safety. Traditionally, school climate has been assessed through student, parent, and staff surveys – stakeholder perceptions.

Instead of looking at the perceptions of stakeholders and how they feel about climate issues, the TASQ shifts the assessment point to the actual practices conducted in the schools that shape those opinions and feelings and perceptions of the stakeholders. The TASQ assesses both the number and the quality of the practices that are correlated by research with safe and positive school climates

It’s a unique instrument in the field of education. The TASQ will help us discover what schools are doing and how well they’re doing it. School leaders can utilize the TASQ as a formative assessment instrument and see where they can do a better job of addressing school safety and climate practices. Eventually, districts and even state education agencies may be able to use the TASQ as a summative assessment instrument. The ultimate objective is to bring these measures to our educational accountability systems because they matter. As the adage goes, what gets measured, gets done.

The TASQ offers more of an objective process for assessing school climate and safety, and it also provides a nonacademic indicator to student success or school quality, which is mandated the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Right now, only a handful of states have some measure of school climate in their accountability model, despite the fact that research says a positive school climate is critical for academic learning and critical for a student’s growth and development. Everyone is trying to find a better way to get school climate and safety to state-level accountability models, and I feel that one day the TASQ might just offer such a path.

Dr. Jonathan Cohen, the founder of the National School Climate Center, has also expressed a desire to work with me after my dissertation to help make the TASQ a valid and reliable instrument. That is a necessary requisite if the instrument is to be adopted by districts or state agencies – or become more than just a self-assessment for school leaders. I’m really excited about that, and the kind of potential the TASQ tool holds.

Tell us about the $2.7M grant you won for your district!

It’s a federal Department of Education grant called the School Climate Transformation Grant (SCTG). We named our initiative BASE – Building Amazing Schools of Excellence, and it’s a $2.7 million grant to be awarded over a period of five years.

A major component of the grant is the improvement of our Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for behavior (MTSS-B). We look at a platform of behavioral interventions that are at our disposal and we try to connect the students with appropriate interventions, using a problem-solving team approach. The SCTG grant is focused on transforming that framework for behavior and transforming school climate. The TASQ will assist in not only assessing the fidelity of MTSS-B practices but also dozens of other practices that impact school climate.

The TASQ will be used to obtain a baseline score for the practices and activities that are going on in our grant schools, then serve as a benchmark for progress. The research I conducted for my dissertation found the TASQ to be flexible, useful, and effective – particularly as it pertains to the assessment of school climate and safety practices and establishing improvement goals. It is an instrument that will hopefully have value for the school leaders who use it, and for us, the school district.

By the end of the five year grant period, we’ll have a structured process that we hope to have spread to all of our 70,000 students across 50 traditional schools, 17 charter schools, and a technical college. We hired some really amazing people to help steer the grant and I’m certain they will lead us to that level of success.

Why did you choose UNE?

I was looking for a very specific type of educational leadership program, and UNE was the only school that I found that offered exactly what I needed. The curriculum appealed to me and it fit all my criteria. I wanted a combination of a program that I could get excited about and one that I didn’t have to travel for.

What encouraged you to get to go for your Ed.D.?

I decided to earn my Ed.D. for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I recognized that in order to ascend to where I wanted to go in my career, I would need a doctorate degree.

Second, having my Ed.D. will be instrumental when I retire. I hope to travel to different districts or schools and serve as a consultant for transforming the climates in their schools. That level of consulting is not done without a doctorate degree. School districts hold higher education in great esteem. I also hope to be invited as a speaker or presenter at national conferences, once I hang up my cleats.

Earning this doctorate is not only going to help me to get where I want to go in my current position, but it will also open up options for me in retirement. I just have to use my degree, my research, and the next 10 years of my career wisely enough to get there.

What’s been your biggest takeaway from the program?

I see the value in becoming even more of an expert in this content area. I have more than 20 years of experience in the field, so it’s exciting for me to expand my knowledge base. The program also allowed me to develop the TASQ and put it through the rigors of doctorate-level research. I’m excited about what the road ahead may bring as a result.

What drives you?

The potential to change the world. That’s not lost on me – it’s a big deal. That’s what I seek to do – and I’m starting in my own backyard.

And then hopefully, TASQ will be widely adopted and integrated into state accountability systems and models, thereby changing and transforming what goes on day-to-day in our schools across this country. That’s my ultimate objective.

I might fall flat on my face. Who knows how it’s going to turn out… but my intent at the onset is to change the world.

I’m not your typical student – I’m getting close to retirement. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s still learning to be done.

Learn more with the Ed.D. Program Guide

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