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Leading the system

Drake EdD student named associate superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools

Drake University doctoral candidate Thomas Ahart was recently selected to serve as associate superintendent for teaching and learning for Des Moines Public Schools. As such, Ahart will oversee a wide range of teaching and learning functions, including curriculum, assessment, ELL, early childhood education, special education, and gifted and talented programs.

In his new role, Ahart will blend his professional experience with his doctoral inquiries identifying the elements of school climate that are characteristic of high-performing schools.

Thomas Ahart (photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Schools)

“This is an area of research and practice that is not addressed systemically in Iowa, but an area where I think we can discover some powerful levers for improving our schools’ performance — both in Des Moines and across the state,” Ahart says. “We are a state that one could argue is data rich and information poor. My goal is to identify some data points that promise to bear fruit for school leaders in determining how to most efficiently engage their schools in improvement efforts that will accelerate student learning.”

For the past three years, Ahart has been principal of Harding Middle School. He has also served as the director of human resources at the Ankeny Community School District, the director of instruction at the Marshalltown Community School District, and as a school improvement consultant at the Heartland Area Education Agency. Ahart has also been a language arts teacher at high schools in Denison, IA, and Glenwood Springs, CO.

Choosing Drake

When he made the decision to pursue a EdD, Ahart explored several doctoral programs. He says he chose Drake because of the rigorous selection process and the determination of doctoral faculty that each student complete and be a positive representative of the program.

“The faculty honored the experiences that members of the cohort brought to the table, making class sessions richer, personally meaningful and practical,” Ahart says.

Ahart added that Dave Darnell, associate professor of leadership, counseling and adult development (who officially retired in May) is staying on to see his last doctoral students through to the end.

“Dr. Darnell has been a tremendous resource in helping me build a partnership with the Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE),” Ahart says. “The CEE has partnered with me to gather data from schools in both Iowa and the state of Washington for comparison purposes.”

School of Education faculty speak highly of Ahart as well. Jan Walker, associate professor of education, described him as an excellent student with strong communication and analytical skill. Walker says:

“In his application paperwork, Tom wrote ‘All good leaders model what they value.’ That definitely typifies Tom. He is highly respected by the Drake faculty and his peers. He is a man of great integrity who has the courage and tenacity to make a difference for kids. He will be great in his new position as associate superintendent of Des Moines. We are very proud of him.”

Experience and initiatives

Ahart has been involved in a number of educational and professional associations, having served as president of the Iowa Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an editor of Iowa Educational Leadership, and a member of the Iowa Department of Education’s Charter School Advisory Board.

He received a bachelor’s degree in speech and mass communication from the University of Denver as well as his master of public administration and specialist in education leadership degrees from Drake University. He is completing his doctorate in education leadership at Drake University this summer, with a dissertation on student achievement factors in Iowa schools.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve the students, teachers and families of Des Moines,” added Ahart. “Our school district has had terrific success in recent years, and I’m looking forward to building on that foundation to make sure every student is provided with the education and support they need to succeed.”