Southwest superintendent pursues doctorate degree in education
Tilford to be first female superintendent in BarCo with PhD
Tosha Tilford, superintendent for Southwest schools, is working hard to obtain a doctorate degree in education from William Woods University.
She is the only female superintendent in Barry County schools, and the only one who does not have her doctorate, and she wants to change that.
"I don't want to be the only superintendent in the county that doesn't have a doctorate," Tilford said. "I had wanted to get it before, and life kind of stopped that from happening, and it just hit me that I needed to get it done."
Tilford has landed various positions of leadership in her career, that, typically, only males fill.
"I have, fortunately, been the first female in a lot of positions," Tilford said, who previously served as high school principal for the district. "I was the first female athletic director at Seneca, and high school principal. I wasn't the first female principal at Southwest, but now am the first female superintendent I kind of took those roles in a lot of situations, and maybe took the discipline a little better."
She credits her upbringing with helping her to both attain, and keep, leadership roles that, traditionally, have been filled by men.
"It's probably a good thing I have pretty thick skin and that my parents raised me to be a strong person, because it has been difficult to be the first female in some of those positions," she said. "I have witnessed both males and females in leadership roles, and if they're not quite sure of themselves, feel they have to prove it.
"I already knew I was in charge, so I didn't have to go out and exert my authority, but just go out and do my job. I don't put on an air. I do follow handbooks and procedures, but I also follow common sense, and that takes you a long way in administration. I always try to think, 'If my child did this, how would I handle this?' when talking with parents. I personally believe that a building principal is most important position in a kid's education, because they set the tone for the building, and their expectations are met."
Exams and classwork in a compressed timeline to obtain a doctorate on a fast track have been brutal.
"I started classes in July 2016," said Tilford, who drove to Joplin every Wednesday night for 13 months straight. "I have crammed all of the coursework into one year. It was grueling but worth it. I took comprehensive exams on Sept. 9 and passed. It was about six hours of writing based on four essay questions. They give you a scenario, and you have to take everything you've learned in leadership and instruction and put that into practice in these scenarios.
"I'm trying to do about three years of research in a year with writing my dissertation, which is on the importance of building leadership and how it relates to student achievement, especially in the secondary setting."
Tilford is putting in the work to obtain any type of advancement, but doing it for her own advancement.
"I'm far enough in my career that having a doctorate wouldn't do anything for me, and I'm not looking to leave Southwest," she said. "But, after retirement, I have a feeling I will keep working, and probably in education, so having it will help me be able to do wherever the Lord leads me. I think it would be pretty neat to have attended school here since kindergarten, graduated, and to retire from here, too. It's been a neat journey."
At the top of the leadership chain in the Southwest district, Tilford's determination to set and obtain goals for herself, and her emphasis on instilling school pride is setting examples for students and staff.
"I just said to myself, 'I'm going to get this done now,'" Tilford said. "Now, I can see that I can do this. I've put myself on a schedule. My goal is to finish in August 2018."
Tilford is very proud of the district and her alma mater.
"It's a good place to be," she said. "We have a lot of successful people who have graduated from this district. One thing I think we've gotten back to is having that school pride, and that is so important. When I was going to school here, we didn't say, 'I'm from Washburn,' We'd proudly say, 'We're from Southwest.' There was such a pride that, really, our school was our community, and our kids are getting back to having that philosophy."
She is also setting an example for female students who may have the perception that certain jobs are just for boys. Recently, a young student questioned how Tilford had the job she did.
"I didn't know a girl can have that job," the student said to her, which prompted a little pep talk from Tilford.
"I don't want girls to ever think they can't do something because of their gender," Tilford said. "Because if you work hard enough and set your mind to it, you can do it. I was raised to get in there and get after it."