Former DSAG scholarship winner Crystal Turner on refining leadership

On Jan. 28, 2015, the Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group (DSAG) will hold its annual dinner in Monterey, where it will award scholarships to three EdD students. The DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund enables the group of current and former Trojan superintendents to support Rossier EdD students who aspire to the position of superintendent. One of the 2013 scholarship winners, Crystal Smith Turner EdD ’13, reflects on her scholarship and the impact of Rossier’s EdD program on her career.

Crystal Turner (far right) at the DSAG awards dinner in January 2013 with Dean Karen Gallagher (center)

Crystal Turner (far right) at the DSAG awards dinner in January 2013 with fellow scholarship winner Oryla Wiedoeft EdD ’14 (left) and Dean Karen Symms Gallagher (center)

Crystal Smith Turner was on the fast track when she entered USC Rossier’s EdD program in 2011. She had already logged six years as a teacher in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District before making the jump to assistant principal and then principal in the same district—all before the age of 30. Her work as principal at Aliso Elementary earned her recognition as an Apple Distinguished Educator, which lauds education leaders for leveraging Apple technology in and out of the classroom.

When she arrived for her first year at Rossier, she was early in her second principal role—at Olivewood Elementary in Lake Forest—and was looking for ways to inspire her faculty to improve student performance by utilizing technology more effectively.

The impact of the EdD program was immediate. “I was taking a class taught by Dr. Rudy Crew on leadership,” she explained. “Dr. Crew told his students how important it was to communicate your vision to your staff.”

“He called it his ‘I Have a Dream’ moment,” said Turner. “‘You have to go in big,’ he told us. ‘You have to inspire people, and you have to give them your vision.’”

The timing was perfect, says Turner, who was planning her first meeting with her new staff at her new school the following week. “It really started the year off in just the right way,” she says. “It was pretty powerful.”

By the spring of her first year in the EdD program, Turner was recruited by the Fullerton Unified School District to be the director of education services, which included implementing one-to-one technology in schools, working with principals, coordinating professional development for teachers and developing STEM programs.

The impact of the EdD program was immediate.

As she was wrapping up her dissertation on superintendents’ implementation of 21st-century skills in the state of California, she accepted an assistant superintendent position in the Tustin Unified School District, where she would be responsible for implementing the district’s $135 million technology bond.

Her rapid ascent did not keep her from thinking back to her early days at Rossier and the lesson stressing the importance of communicating her vision to her staff. Things had changed since her days as an elementary school principal, where it was easy to imagine gathering an entire staff around one table to collaborate on the direction for the school.

At Tustin she had inherited a district’s “vision,” so to speak, in the form of the technology bond, and she was charged with making it work. And she no longer had direct contact with classroom teachers. Instead she had the honor of working with digital learning coaches, whose job it is to motivate teachers throughout the district to implement technology in the classroom.

“If you are going to implement 21st-century skills,” she says, reflecting on the conclusions found in her dissertation, “you have to provide your teachers with pretty intensive support and training.”

She says she was humbled in 2013 when she stood at a podium in front of dozens of superintendents at a dinner ceremony to accept the scholarship award. “I felt like I was part of the Trojan fold,” she says.

Meanwhile, her vision is catching on. Four of those digital learning coaches under Turner at Tustin are now in their first year of Rossier’s EdD program.

Annual gifts can be made to the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund to support future EdD students aspiring to become superintendents. Every gift counts toward the Campaign for the USC Rossier School of Education and helps grow the endowment to increase the number of scholarships awarded in the future. To make a gift, visit rossier.usc.edu/giving or contact Diana Hernandez, director of development, at dehernan@usc.edu.

Interested in enrolling in a graduate program? Rossier is conducting an “EdD in Educational Leadership Prospective Student Day” on Dec. 13, 2014. Register now!