Research News

Vanderbilt to offer new master’s for independent school leadership

by Kurt Brobeck

Camilla Benbow, Dean of Peabody College (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

UPDATE: To learn more or apply for this program, contact Rosie Moody at (615) 322-8019 or

Addressing the shortage of opportunities for advanced, specialized study for those who aspire to lead independent schools, Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development is launching a new master’s degree of education (M.Ed.) in independent school leadership.

Approximately 10 percent of U.S. students attend independent private schools. Numbering more than 33,000, they make up about 25 percent of all U.S. schools. Yet there has long been a shortage of opportunities for advanced, specialized study for those who aspire to lead these institutions.

“Independent schools need leaders of excellence who understand the complex educational, political, social, fiscal and moral dimensions of independent schools and the communities in which they reside,” said Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development and professor of psychology at Peabody. “But each year, thousands of independent school leaders pursue advanced degrees in programs designed to prepare public school principals, whose needs are very different.”

The new degree program will incorporate knowledge based on current research and will help leaders develop the particular competencies needed to successfully manage an independent school.

The program’s unique design will include intensive coursework completed on the Vanderbilt campus over two consecutive summers combined with school-based research and practice during the intervening academic year. Participants will maintain their current employment while pursuing their studies. During the school year, they will be required to demonstrate proficiency by completing modules built on the knowledge gained during the summer session. They will also work in groups of two or three to complete a project for an independent school, group or association.

When not on campus, students will use online technology to upload and share project materials, critique each other’s work and participate in discussion forums with faculty and peers.

Patrick Schuermann will lead the new M.Ed. program in independent leadership. (Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt)

Entering cohorts will consist of approximately 20 current or aspiring independent school leaders. Applications are being accepted for the first cohort, which will enroll in 2014.

Subjects covered during the first summer will include such topics as governance, boards and organizational dynamics; school finance and fundraising; admissions and financial aid; marketing and external relations; curriculum design; teachers and teaching; and data-based decision making.

During the second summer, coursework will address American educational history, international issues, school law, strategic planning and accreditation, conflict resolution, cognitive science, diversity, technology, and innovation, among other topics.

The program will be taught by Vanderbilt faculty members and supplemented by highly accomplished independent school leaders already working in the field.

“This program fills a very important need for graduate programs that address school leadership within an independent school context,” said Steve Robinson, president of the Southern Association of Independent Schools. “As a degree program offered by one of the world’s most prestigious colleges of education, this M.Ed. will add tremendous value for any educator to whom it is granted. I commend Peabody College for offering this program, and I recommend it to any educator who leads, or aspires to lead, within an independent school.”

Ellen Goldring, the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor and chair of Peabody’s Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, is optimistic about the new program.

“Independent schools operate in an increasingly complex and competitive environment,” she said. “To thrive, these schools need leaders with a breadth of knowledge and abilities that go beyond those typically offered in professional education. Peabody’s history, the strength of our faculty, and our relationships to national and regional independent school organizations position us well to meet this demand.”

The program in independent school leadership will be directed by Patrick Schuermann, research assistant professor of public policy and education, who has been involved in leadership development for more than a decade at Peabody College and has established innovative programs to help school leaders develop their capacity to lead public, private and international schools. Schuermann created and has led several Peabody professional development programs serving independent school leaders through the Peabody Professional Institutes.

To learn more about the new degree in independent school leadership, visit

UPDATE: To learn more or apply for this program, contact Rosie Moody at (615) 322-8019 or