Times of executive transition are always full of hope and promise, and such is the case at IRA as the Association’s new executive director, Marcie Craig Post, takes the reins. Post was selected from among a strong field of candidates in a search effort initiated by the IRA Board of Directors last fall. After a lengthy process that included several rounds of intensive interviews, the board voted her appointment in early March, and announced her selection publicly on April 2, 2012.
Post brings more than 20 years of experience in the leadership and management of educational organizations to IRA. In each of her positions, she has focused on establishing and maintaining sustainable operations by applying strong expertise to longterm, mission-centric planning, data-driven outcomes-based growth, and the development of innovative products and services.
Among other roles, she has worked as an independent consultant, as the Chief Program and Education Officer for Global Partnership Schools, and as the Chief Executive Officer for Education Enterprises of New York, where she oversaw the operation of five affiliated nonprofit organizations, which included a school for students with learning disabilities, a community education center, and a foundation. Post also holds a Masters of Education in Higher Education degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Reading Today recently caught up with Post, who graciously gave the following interview as a means of introducing herself to the broader membership of IRA. Starting in the next issue of the magazine, Marcie will be contributing her own regular column.
Congratulations on your appointment.What are your first thoughts about the new role you are now embarked on?
Well, it is an incredible joy and pleasure for me to have this personal opportunity to contribute to the work of the International Reading Association, an organization I have been aware of for a long time. The value IRA brings to its members is enormous, including providing tools for developing literacy, reading, and language skills that are vital for the world’s future. This is an astounding and humbling moment. I am excited by it, and especially excited to do a lot of learning—looking, forming questions, and then informing the future direction that IRA will take.
What are the top three things you want the IRA community to know about you as you begin?
First, that I am a practical, down to earth, and open individual who really wants to know and understand the front line of teaching and learning, so that their work informs the services and programs that IRA provides. At one level it can seem easy to chart or direct strategy, but the indispensable element of successful strategy must be a link back to the practical reality of the classroom teacher.
Second, I am a very real person who likes to double check how things fit and what is truly manageable in effective education. I am intent on absorbing all aspects of evidence based practices. I take a management perspective, that is to say, I take a realistic view in approaching challenges. I like to check things against today’s reality, set a strategic course to tackle the challenge, and set a clear target for achievability.
Finally, I have a lot of past experiences which I bring to the work at-hand in IRA. I’m a positive person who brings endless optimism to everything that I do and I will bring this perspective to my new task. I am someone who thrives in a positive workplace and want to ensure that IRA provides a positive environment of support and collaboration. I will reach out to the membership to learn how IRA can best support them in terms of the association’s services, information, tools, and products.
Earlier in your career you headed up a school for special needs children. What were some of the special challenges there and how did you address them?
When I first started at the Norman Howard School in Rochester, NY, great things were happening there. This is a state approved private school that was achieving great things with high needs students and producing astounding results. The odd thing was that although the school was successful, they could not specifically identify what it was that brought about success for students! It happened every day, but the key elements of the school’s success had never been named or codified. So the challenge I set for myself was to figure this out so that we could name the effective practices and back the program with evidence.
Working with the faculty and an independent consultant, the school identified ten primary themes of practice and through research review, backed each practice with evidence of effectiveness. To improve instructional practice, staff collected and analyzed student data in the areas of reading and writing, identifying gaps and trends in learning. The information gleaned from this exercise was used to revise the scope and sequence of reading and writing instruction in grades 5 through 12, providing continuity in the strategies used across grade levels. The Norman Howard School also provided a supportive environment that fostered the social and emotional development of students. Over the years, the school provided top-notch professional development for its teachers and opened up access of those opportunities for educators from the Western New York region.
You also headed up a group of affiliated non-profits, including an educational foundation, which you managed for growth and sustainability. How will that experience help you in your new role?
My past fundraising experience brings a considerable amount of value. The foundation work was extremely strategic, with a focus on developing each organization’s potential for sustainability. The Foundation identified areas for program and organizational development and secured the necessary resources for implementation and operation. I worked extensively with the boards of each organization. The boards operated in concert at the foundation level to ensure planning was aligned to mission and purpose and adequate funding was available to meet strategic goals. These organizations were very creative in accessing a wide variety of funding opportunities, which is something I hope to bring to IRA.
You have also done fund development work. What is your opinion of the current climate for literacy-related grants from the public and private sectors?
While private opportunities for giving exist, there is greater potential from raising corporate foundation dollars, especially where partnership is involved.
As I see it, the climate for securing foundation dollars is likely to improve as the economy strengthens. In addition, the media and policy attention on education and improving classrooms will continue to present funding opportunities that IRA will explore.
I believe that IRA is well positioned to access some of these dollars, but we will need to be deliberate and selective in going forward. It is essential that we ensure that partnerships and funding opportunities are appropriate for our mission and purpose, otherwise we run the risk of letting the funding tail wag the mission dog. Our funding focus should support the needs of our members, and partnerships should be mutually beneficial and synergetic.
At the school you helped design professional development events targeted primarily at teachers. What do you see as the crucial elements of successful PD?
In my view, the elements of quality and depth are most important. A strong model of PD provides teachers with knowledge, strategies, and tools that have real-time practical application. Topics need to have a high degree of relevance and utility and if possible, meet an immediate need of educators.
I believe in a deep-dive approach in PD, with opportunities for repeated learning of a single topic, so that participants can develop their expertise on the subject. Topics presented, modeled, and reinforced over a course of time have a better chance at translating into actual instructional practice.
Finally, it is essential to measure the effectiveness of PD to ensure that we’re delivering the right topics, the right tools, and that our members are walking away with the knowledge to apply what they have learned. If you want growth to be permanent, your follow-up learning on the topics has to be sustained. I really do see opportunities here for IRA in ensuring that members are getting, and we’re providing them with, the PD they want and need. We can also learn from our state councils, many of whom are providing excellent PD opportunities for their membership, and assist other councils with implementing strong models for PD and program measurement.
You spent two years working as chief program officer for Global Partnership Schools, dealing in part with programs and services for public school turnarounds. Do you think the American education system needs a new model?
Now that’s some question! Do I think we need a new model? Yes. Do I have an overall single idea on how to solve a problem of this magnitude? No.
Sometimes I like to start my reflections on this issue by simply asking myself how meaningful change could possibly take place. I think it requires a frame of mind that says “no more business as usual,” and that a new way of envisioning schools must take root.
Needless to say, the problem has many facets. When I was in Rochester, I attended literacy summits organized by the mayor’s office. It became clear to me from these sessions that things like access to reading materials, difficulty with home life, family dynamics, and quality of neighborhoods all play a part in the educational experience of the nation’s students.
So it remains a massive, perplexing, fascinating problem. My preference is to think less about general reform and more about fixing one very important thing, because this approach offers more hope. My suggestion is that it is time for us to be more attentive in how we craft the high school experience.
We are not meeting the learning needs of adolescent students where they’re at, and we need to make the high school curriculum far more relevant and engaging to much larger groups of students. The thing we need to accomplish is to see a real change in the dropout rate for high school students, as they are today’s most at-risk segment of the population. Their educational deficits, left unchecked, will keep them barred from the opportunities and experiences they would otherwise be able to enjoy in the global job market.
What is it about the cause of literacy that so excites you?
I have worked for many years with students who struggled to read but who could grasp the knowledge the text was designed to relay. These students grappled every day with the simple mechanics of reading, but with the right supports, were just as able as their peers without reading disabilities to progress in their learning and be successful academically. While the number of students who face reading difficulties because of disabilities is significant, I believe a more critical issue that we as educators grapple with is that our youth who can read may be losing their motivation to do so.
This is a crucial issue. We need to explore and understand the motivators for reading and the way in which our students access the written word – no matter what form it is in, including and most importantly, electronic media. We need to ask ourselves how we are going to develop, modify, and fit instruction to the way that students are most likely to access books and information.
When I was a child, I lived two doors down from the local public library. I can remember summer days when my mother packed my lunch and sent me off to spend the whole day there. I would sit among the stacks, going through all of the picture books and then the junior readers and I knew each librarian by name. That was my portal to literacy access.
Times are different now and so is the portal. We have to ponder how reading has changed, and what we need to do with children and adolescents at different stages to make reading relevant, alive, and vibrant in their lives. We need to meet our youth where they are in terms of reading and accessing information and it will be increasingly more important to adapt our schools and methods of instruction to this reality.
Can you name three books that have made a deep impact on you and explain why?
I’d be happy to. One would be Schools that Learn by Peter Senge. Senge argues that the capacity to learn is the most important capacity schools need to have, and that this capacity involves areas like personal mastery, shared mental models and vision, teamwork, and systemic thinking. The book shows how systematic thinking can be applied to schools.
A favorite fiction novel is Prodigal Summer
by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a beautiful novel about relationships, growth, and self-discovery set in a small Appalachian town.
As for a third, I’d have to say Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Pink explains how things like autonomy, mastery, and purpose feed motivation.
Finally, I have to say that music has always had a deep impact in my life. I think I must have the world’s largest iTunes library, which includes just about everything from classical music to Eminem, from Broadway show tunes to opera. Music is very important in my life.
If you could make one request of the IRA community at this time what would it be?
Be courageous! I believe that the next few years will take a tremendous amount of courage and creativity to fine tune the work that we are doing and to find different ways we can do it. We are primed for this challenge, and by taking it on we are honoring the history of IRA and its enduring legacy.
Is there anything else you would like to add to close out this interview?
My personal preparation for my new role has already commenced. I have been in contact with the leadership at several other nonprofit membership organizations to ask what challenges they are facing and get a sense of what they are doing to meet their members’ needs.
I hope that people will pick up right away that I am a direct, honest, and frank person. Mostly, I want people to know that I am a closer. Not being able to see the ultimate end result of my work was one of my biggest disappointments when I did consulting. I like to stick around to see what happens, to experience the end result, to see what worked and what didn't, and where we might need to change course.
This article is reprinted from the June/July 2012 issue of Reading Today. IRA members can read the interactive digital version of the magazine here. Nonmembers: join today!