Two former Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Teachers of the Year have added their names to a small list of classroom teachers that have obtained doctoral degrees. Dr. Holly Sullivan and Dr. Wendy Campbell earned Teacher of the Year (TOY) titles in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years, respectively.
After earning their TOY titles, Sullivan and Campbell began mulling over their next steps and decided obtaining an advanced degree was the best way to pursue their goals. It just made sense to do it together, Sullivan said.
Other KCSD employees suggested Sullivan and Campbell look into NOVA Southeastern University. Since the two both had full-time jobs and a family, the duo needed a program that would fit into their schedules. Based in Florida, NOVA is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. They had been told the program was “expensive, but do-able,” and the duo began their doctoral journey.
Getting your doctorate is a test of endurance, Campbell said. During their first semester in the summer of 2008, Sullivan and Campbell took three classes together. Two were recommended for incoming students, but the other, a class on school policies took more of an effort.
“We almost wanted to quit,” Sullivan said. “It was so hard.”
Both said they had trouble formatting their papers to the American Psychological Association (APA) format, but after some revisions, they made it through despite noticing how fast others were dropping out of the program. Campbell said after their first semester, their only concern was time-management. They both finished their degree programs with 4.0 records.
Although Campbell and Sullivan both finished with “A” averages, they both faced challenges during the program. Sullivan had to take a semester off due to funding and Campbell had a vision impairment called for an adjustment to her lifestyle.
Campbell has an eye disease so rare it doesn’t have a name. It is similar to wet-macular degeneration, an “eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of your vision field,” according to Mayoclinic.com.
Campbell’s right eye had already been affected when her left declined in the midst of her doctoral program. Campbell informed Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) Principal Tommy Gladden of her vision impairment and he worked to accommodate her, but didn’t inform the school district because she was determined to continue working. Campbell said her vision impairment would cause her to miss parts of words, so she bought the audio version of the text and memorized and took notes on the material in order to teach it to her classes.
“She wouldn’t do disability at all,” Sullivan said, recounting a time she and Campbell went into the L-EHS teachers work room and prayed. “Her husband called me to encourage her. We’ve been praying the whole time to allow us to keep going.”
Campbell’s son, Elliot, then 10, read her class text to her for up to three hours per reading session. Campbell went to Duke Medical Center five or six times for treatment, but found she wasn’t a candidate for retina rotation. Instead, a doctor prescribed Avastin, a chemotherapy drug typically used for colon cancer, which Campbell currently has injected into her eye every four to six weeks.
Sullivan and Campbell tried to take classes and with the same teacher as much as possible. The two got off track from each other after about two years, but shared books, which helped cut down on costs. They also shared a lot of information and articles, even though their different backgrounds led them to interpreting the information differently. Campbell finished her dissertation and graduated in August 2011; Sullivan finished hers in December 2011. The two were very complimentary of the other’s skills, citing that the other had what they weren’t as strong in.
“Holly is the analytical and knew all of the dates things were due, and is very tech-savvy,” Campbell said. “I’m the global one; I asked all of the questions and talked to the professors,” she said.
The light at the end…
Campbell and Sullivan even had complementary dissertations -- Sullivan’s was qualitative; Campbell’s quantitative.
Sullivan’s qualitative dissertation focused on how to reduce stress and isolation in first year teaching using an “online professional community” that included posting and responding to blogs and included face-to-face interviews. She worked with 14 first year teachers during the 2009-2010 school year. Sullivan worked with the teachers through their third year of teaching.
Campbell’s quantitative dissertation tested whether a “reading across the curriculum” program would help students score higher on their end-of-course physical science exams. She thought students struggle on end of course science exams because they don’t understand the questions. With the one-year implementation of the reading across the curriculum program for one year, Campbell said she found physical science test scores “increased tremendously.”
Both doctoral candidates hired a Charlotte, N.C.-based editor to help them with APA formatting; their dissertations were accepted on first submission.
Sullivan and Campbell also had the option to meet with a cohort in Columbia, for their classes, but chose not to do so. They were each other’s cohort, Sullivan said.
“There’s a lot of trust and respect in our relationship; we both have things that the other would like to emulate” Sullivan said. “We are a lot alike, but very different.”
They both want to be the best they can be, Campbell said, but they have different goals. Campbell earned undergraduate degrees in English and music from Columbia College, and a master’s in remediation at Francis Marion University. Sullivan earned undergraduate chemistry degree at North Carolina State University, and a master’s degree from East Carolina University. Campbell would like to be in a full-time administration position, and is currently filling in for Leslie M. Stover Assistant Principal Felicia Walker, who is out on medical leave. After completing a full-time position as an assistant principal and a principal, Campbell said she can see herself in a district office working on curriculum and professional development side of things.
Sullivan isn’t “as clear” about her future goals, because she’s noticed an improvement in her teaching since completing the doctoral program.
“I’m going to be open to opportunities,” said Sullivan, but also mentioned she would like to “collaborate” with teachers.
Joining the club
The doctoral program emphasized where one might go for help in solving issues that emerge in a school district, Sullivan said.
“It helped you to understand where you might go for resources and that you can do it alone,” she said. “It’s almost humbling.”
Campbell said learning her limitations was a big take away. She had to “slow down, humble myself, but not … let anything stop me.”
Campbell and Sullivan said the biggest blessing was getting to spend time together and getting to know each other. In addition to their drive, the pair attributed their success to the support they received from faculty and students. They are now two of five KCSD teachers to have earned doctorates; the others are Douglas Bell, Blaney Elementary; Chandra Reed-Carr, Jackson Elementary; and Janet Williams, Camden High School.