We lost a great one. A hero for all children.
Awilda Barbara Wheeler passed away on Sept. 6. Funeral services were held for her at the St. Edwards Church in Baltimore on Sept. 22.
This name may not immediately stir one’s memories because in Cecil County we knew her as Dr. Barbara Wheeler, associate superintendent for education services, Cecil County Public Schools.
Barbara was an outstanding educator, a great leader and an amazing human being. Born and raised in Baltimore in a home with minimal means, she and her four siblings all grew up to earn advanced higher education degrees and served in prominent positions in education or the private sectors. From this experience, Barbara understood that education was the only true equalizer that would free those from the grips of poverty. She wore this in her professional and personal lives as a badge of courage and purpose throughout her long, dedicated and successful career.
She served as an educator in Baltimore City, Harford County, Cecil County and Kent County. She started out as an elementary teacher and served in numerous leadership roles, culminating as superintendent of the Kent County Public Schools. What I wish to share in the rest of this epistle is her work and many accomplishments in Cecil County.
I was fortunate to be selected as superintendent of schools for Cecil County in July 1996. In the first six months, I became acutely aware that there was a lack of instructional and learning knowledge at the leadership level. Teachers were working extremely hard, but without the content and pedagogy required as we were preparing our young citizens to enter the 21st century.
I had worked with Barbara for the previous five years as a member of the leadership cabinet for the Harford County Public Schools. I asked and she accepted the top education position in CCPS, associate superintendent for education services. Over the next nine years, what was accomplished under her leadership was simply an amazing transformation.
Dr. Wheeler did not just believe that all students can learn. She understood and was determined that all students would learn.
Under her direction leadership, Barbara:
Selected and built a team that was focused on results, achieving success for every student.
Created curriculum and a training component for all content areas, grades K-12 in a matter of a few years. For those of you who know the business, think of that. She did it through the human resources from within. CCPS instruction folks, including teachers, selected and trained completed this task under her leadership.
She built a community of learners. As Doris Kerns Goodwin states in her new book “Leadership,” leaders and build teams that believe in the cause. Barbara’s cause — all students must learn.
A new instructional delivery system established an “instructional support teacher” in every elementary and middle school responsible to work under the direction of the school principal to assist in the implementation of the curriculum and effective instructional strategies.
Barbara worked to build a school improvement process in every school building that demonstrated that true change, an environment where all students will learn, must come from the classroom up, not from the central office down. Real and lasting change only occurs when those who deliver it, own it and are committed to achieve the desired results. Our job was to support, to ensure that teachers and administrators had the resources necessary to achieve success.
Barbara started an in-house leadership development program, Tremendous Natural Talent (TNT), for anyone who wanted to hone their leadership knowledge and skills. Many who completed this program went on to fill leadership positions within the school system.
She along with other leaders in the system adopted and practiced a systems thinking process to identify and solve obstacles in an efficient and effective manner.
She accepted the challenge of initiating the inclusion of special needs children into the regular classroom setting. Not an easy change in school culture but she was not deterred.
In her nine years in CCPS. much was accomplished directly related to her unwavering determination that we would not fail our children. But over and above the test scores and the demonstrated mastery of knowledge by students and those charged to deliver on a daily based, was the emergence of pride that was exhibited by those who worked in the schools each day and those outside the schools who were responsible to deliver resources and support to ensure that teachers were well prepared.
Today if you speak with