Faculty Interview: Tracy Caddell, Ball State University

Dr. Tracy Caddell is a retired school superintendent. He served two Indiana school corporations during his sixteen years as a superintendent. One of his districts was recognized as an Apple Distinguished School Corporation, as well as being recognized as one of the first corporations in Indiana to use marketing techniques to attract students during a public-school choice environment. Over his career, two of his elementary schools were honored as National Blue Ribbon Schools. Dr. Caddell was recognized by his peers in 2017 as the District III Superintendent of the Year, and has served as Vice President and President of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association. Dr. Caddell has taught courses in school law, leadership, school finance, and decision making, and he serves as the director of the superintendent and principal internship program at Ball State University. The internship program places approximately 120 graduate students each semester in leadership positions in Indiana schools. Dr. Caddell is a graduate of Indiana and Ball State universities, earning multiple degrees from both institutions. He resides in Fishers, Indiana with his wife, Teresa.

You are currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Ball State University. From your experience, what are the key qualities of a successful leader in education?

A successful leader in education needs to have great communication skills; be reflective of their practice; and have the ability to change the organization in a transformational manner. Communication is key to building a trusting relationship among the various stakeholders in a school community, including schools, staff, teachers, parents, and community members. Without effective communication the ability to lead an organization as complex as a school or corporation becomes impossible. The ability to be reflective is a necessary ingredient to successful school leadership as it is important for leaders to take a step back to evaluate the key decisions that are being made on behalf of children, and to always make sure those decisions are grounded in ethical behavior. Absent that “look in the mirror”, school leaders can succumb to the politics of education. There are many competing groups in a school corporation, with each group believing their course of action is the correct path for students. Finally, successful leaders in education are transformational in the sense of elevating their staff to complete assignments and tasks that produce results beyond the ordinary expectations. As a school leader you can choose to adopt the status quo but to be an exceptional leader you have to move the district forward.

You also have a special focus on superintendent preparation. How would you compare the day-to-day responsibilities and job of a superintendent to other organization leaders, for example a CEO?

Honestly, I do not see much of difference except for the pay and the benefits of a school superintendent compared to a CEO (laughs). School corporations are a multi-million dollar organization. Our budgets, in many cases, are larger than the largest corporation in a town, particularly in a rural area. There are multi-faceted aspects to a school corporation including transportation, food service, maintaining facilities, marketing, public relations, safety considerations, and the assumption of debt. The one difference is that as a school superintendent I did not have the ability to increase my profit margin on a product in order to raise needed capital. School superintendents have to live within their budgets on an annual basis. No one is coming to your rescue.

Communication and social skills must play a significant role in educational leadership and the duties of a school superintendent. How does Ball State University’s online EdD program provide the interactive learning environment to develop communication skills outside of a traditional classroom?

I think Ball State does a nice job in creating a balance between an on-line format and a traditional EdD platform. The Ball State program is a hybrid in the sense that the majority of the work is completed on-line but we also have students meet monthly in a “live” format with their professors. This “live” engagement once a month allows for a deeper discussion than you might find in a separate on-line format. There can be times during an on-line discussion when you lose the feedback you need at a critical point, although I always give students my cell phone number for those “educational” emergencies. I particularly like a hybrid format because I was able to visually see my students once a month which allowed for relationship building and a richer experience between myself and my students. We could discuss their on-line assignments and make decisions collaboratively which I believe leads to better learning outcomes. Finally, we became much more connected relationally even though we only met four times during the semester.

From your experience, what are some of the career advantages a practicing educator may benefit from after earning an online EdD from a school like Ball State University?

Many of our professors have the networking contacts in the field to assist our students in finding future employment or administrative internships. For example, as a superintendent for 16 years, I know many of the superintendents and principals throughout the State and have assisted students with those contacts when searching for a job or an internship. As a practicing superintendent I hired many of my interns as administrators upon graduation when I was an adjunct at BSU. Many of our intern adjunct faculty have done the same thing. Having a balance between researchers and practitioners as professors at Ball State creates a nice balance for those students working on a dissertation, and for those students looking to create their first network in trying to find employment.

We’re hoping to use these interviews to give a sense of individuality and character to the online EdD programs featured on Teach.com. What’s something unique about this EdD program or Ball State University’s education college you can share with us?

One area I believe is special about the educational leadership program at BSU is that our students take classes that help them write their literature reviews and proposals. They are assigned a chair who guides and assists them through the dissertation process. Ball States provides more help and one-on-one assistants than most universities and our department has reduced our numbers of ABD’s because of this strategy of working with students early in the dissertation process.