“Like a typical teenager, you sometimes don’t want to do what your parents think you should do,” said Wendy Birhanzel ’07 EdD, Superintendent of Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Since both parents were educators, being a teacher initially was not a career goal. “But I needed to be with people where I can make a bigger difference … I just wanted to impact kids and make a difference and impact a larger group of kids not just in the classroom.”
After 20 years in education, serving in various capacities from teacher to principal to superintendent, Birhanzel was named the 2023 Colorado Superintendent of the Year. “Now, I can impact 13,000 students that we have in our district,” she said.
Birhanzel received her bachelor’s in Elementary Education and Reading from Valley City State University in North Dakota, and a master’s in Education Administration in Diverse School Settings from California State University-Dominguez Hills. She pursued her doctorate in Education Leadership in Urban School Settings at USC Rossier and graduated in 2007. After teaching in South Central Los Angeles, she joined Harrison District 2 as principal in 2009.
“All the professors in the doctorate program in education are the people writing the books. Not only did I get to learn from the best, but I got to talk to the best and problem-solve with the best,” Birhanzel said.
She applies the skills she learned at USC Rossier regularly and often relies on her Trojan Family for guidance. At the onset of the pandemic, Birhanzel contacted her former classmates. “I reached out to some of my colleagues, who I graduated with from USC, who were in leadership roles across the country and asked, Hey, what are you guys doing?” After rebounding from the pandemic, she used her USC resources to establish an Equity Council in her district to research what did and did not work.
Harrison District 2 is one of the most diverse in the state, with a 74% minority student population and 75% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. In addition, Birhanzel’s district outperformed other districts in Colorado with an 81% graduation rate and a 1.2% dropout rate. She attributes her success to the beliefs that were instilled in her while pursuing her doctorate.
“It’s not just talking the talk, but how do we get this done, and we’re really making it happen here,” she said. “A lot of that is due to my education and support from my USC Trojan Family.”