Dr. Joe Novak is the coordinator of the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Master’s program in Educational Administration, director of the Professional Development School program and senior lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Education. Novak worked as a high school principal for 21 years, after earning his Ed.D. Educational Administration from Kansas State University. Now retired from that role, he returned to teaching, coordinating the Educational Administration program at KU that can help school leaders face the challenges of the ever-changing demographics of classrooms, diverse student needs, staff development and educational research.
“The whole issue of diversity has changed,” Novak says. “One of the biggest challenges that school leaders face is the changing demographics in America.” Novak alludes to states such as Texas and California which are changing into “minority-majority states,” where the traditional Caucasian-American majority is quickly becoming the minority. Novak doesn’t think that this is anomaly but will become the rule, rather than the exception.
At the same time, school leaders will have the challenge of meeting a variety of other types of student needs. “What was once Special Ed has now become an umbrella of a host of many, many different psychological, academic and physical disabilities that need to be met with equity across the board.” Novak notes.
This is all while schools budgets are being reduced, across the nation. Novak says that in Kansas, for example, “there has been an unprecedented reduction in public dollars toward public education and I’m afraid to say that it’s very difficult for teachers to continue to do more with less.”
The Educational Administration Master’s program deals with these issues in a cohesive way that Novak explains is program-wise and course-specific. “Each of the courses stands alone, but then props up the one that came before it and the one that comes after it.” The program addresses not only budgets and student needs, but also staff evaluation and development, and implementation of research.
“The ELPS staff here in the Master’s program see research as very critical,” a facet of KU that Novak is proud of. “The research and all of the articles that have been written and studied on these things is so critical, but unless you can apply that to what you’re doing every day, it makes it kind of a science that you don’t understand necessarily. So what we’re trying to do is teach you the research and to have you begin to value and appreciate the hard work that researchers put in at the university level. But then be able to take those raw scores or the data that they are establishing in their research or their summaries and apply it to everyday classrooms.”
Novak’s advice to ELPS students: “Have a conversation. Don’t stop with just doing the assignment. Go out and see how that fits into the culture and climate of the organization that you’re currently in. That’s probably the best advice I can give. Go pick brains. Go get people to disagree with you.”