Local school principals earn doctorates
Two principals from the West Potomac Pyramid, Dr. Tanganyika (Tangy) Millard of West Potomac High School and Dr. Darwin Barker of Carl Sandburg Middle School (MS), earned their doctorates this month. Both Millard and Barker assumed their current roles with Fairfax County Public Schools in 2017. Sandburg MS is a feeder school for West Potomac.
We caught up with Barker recently to learn more about his accomplishment.
Q: Where and when did you begin pursuing the doctoral program?
A. I began the program — a doctorate in educational leadership and policy — in Fall 2019 at Virginia Tech’s campus in Falls Church. I had in-person classes for the first half of the program but switched to virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was originally intended to be 100% in-person.
Q. Why was getting a doctorate important to you?
A. I was encouraged by my direct supervisor who had done the program. Also, my wife said it was the right time due to the age of our daughters. They’re in first and second grades right now.
Q. How did you manage to juggle classes with your work and family life?
A. To be quite honest with you, I don’t know! When I reflect on it, I wonder where I found the time to do it. Being a principal is a labor of love, but it’s time-consuming during and after the school day. I had to sacrifice time with my family. I had to really focus when it was time to do the intensive writing. On the weekends, I went to Sandburg to write for eight to 10 hours each day. I considered myself a weekend warrior with regard to the dissertation.
Q. What was your dissertation topic?
A. My topic was “Effective Principal Leadership Practices to Close Achievement Gaps.” I interviewed nationally distinguished principals from schools that were successful in closing gaps, and I learned their strategies. The main motivation for my dissertation topic was that it’s the nature of the work I do every day — finding the intersection between theory and practice. I’m a practitioner. I know what’s necessary to close gaps, but it was helpful to talk with others across the country where schools are different. The interviews confirmed that our strategies are on track, but they need to be done consistently and with fidelity. The research will be useful for new principals coming into diverse schools and deciding what strategies to use.
Q. How will your doctoral work impact your service at Sandburg MS?
A. I consider myself a lifelong learner. It’s something I set out to do a few years ago. I come from humble beginnings. I’m a first-gen college graduate. As the youngest of three boys, my parents encouraged us to get a good education, and I wanted to finish the race.