Diane Ullman has been the superintendent of the Simsbury Public Schools, a nationally recognized top-performing district, since 2004. Prior to this, she served as the assistant executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). She also served for seven years as the assistant superintendent of the Farmington (Conn.) School District. Ullman earned a PhD in educational administration from the University of Colorado in Boulder, a master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston, and an undergraduate degree from Regis College in Weston, Mass. She is a commissioner for the NEASC Commission on American and International Schools Abroad in addition to other leadership roles. Ullman will soon become the director of the Principal Preparation Program at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. I had a chance to catch up with her at the District Administration Leadership Institute’s Superintendents Summit in early April.
Q: You’ve been teaching and leading in K12 schools for almost 40 years, and you were elected as the superintendent of the year for 2012 by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS). What are a few of the accomplishments you are most proud of at Simsbury Public Schools?
Ullman: Being named superintendent of the year for Connecticut is a highlight of my whole career. It is quite an honor; I work among many distinguished colleagues in the state and was quite surprised to receive this honor. Anything that I have achieved has been a result of the team that I work with, and at the top of that list is the board of education, which has an unyielding focus on what’s good for kids. We have worked together collaboratively and created many great opportunities for students in Simsbury.
Another part of that team is my administrative group, which is extraordinarily dedicated and up for the challenges that I have set before them. They have really embraced the change that has come and have brought that change to their schools. There are so many things that I am proud of that I’ve accomplished with this great team. One that stands out most in my mind is the notion that continuous improvement is a part of how we do our work. Every year we examine where we are and what we need to do next, and we’ve been able to increase our effectiveness as a school system.
Aside from continuous improvement, I’m extremely proud of the work we have done in curriculum. We now have a comprehensive K12 curriculum across all subject areas that is documented and used by teachers. Most curriculum sits on shelves, but our curriculum lives and breathes in classrooms, and we are continuously working to refine it.
The last thing I would say is that we have made some really significant improvements in our elective programs for students at the secondary level. Particularly, our fine and performing arts programs have grown substantially in terms of student involvement and opportunities.
What recent technological innovations have been implemented at SPS?
Ullman: Technology implementation has been a big part of my agenda as superintendent. It started in 2006 when we designed a five-year plan to bring all of our classrooms up to what we consider a model classroom status. We developed a plan that not only included the equipment that would be in classrooms but also included professional development and a funding plan so that we would have a sustainable technology infrastructure. We are now wireless in all of our schools, and our teachers are able to collaborate with each other through user groups. They are exploring with all kinds of tools, including social media tools and applications for iPad, and they have really blossomed. The use of technology by teachers is expanding exponentially, and it’s expanding because teachers are taking the lead.
As you leave the superintendency, how do you envision your new role?
Ullman: A true part of my core beliefs is that schools get better under good leadership, and having learned a lot over a long career about how to develop leaders, I want to take that and be part of developing the next generation of leaders. There is nothing we need more than strong leaders in our schools that can shape a school community and bring high levels of achievement for all students. I think the Neag School is particularly suited to produce high-quality leaders, and I’m thrilled to be part of that work. I currently teach in the Executive Leadership Program, and creating a continuum between those two programs is one of my goals.