Among the many titles Darnisha Carreathers, Ed.D., proudly claims – teacher, principal, breast cancer survivor, mother and grandmother – she can now add administrator in charge of the literacy efforts for one of the largest school districts in the nation. Her latest career move was sparked by a doctorate in organizational leadership from ACU Online. She has been named the new (and first) executive director of literacy for Fort Worth Independent School District.
A passion for leading with purpose
Carreathers started her career teaching English language arts and algebra at the high school level in East Texas for four years.
“When I started to teach, I knew I wanted to be an administrator,” she said. “So I went into teaching knowing I was going to be a principal. In my first year of teaching, I started my master’s. And just after that fourth year, after I got my master’s, I was like, ‘I’m going to apply for an assistant principal position.’ And I did. The next year I said, ‘I’m going to be a principal,’ and I was. And so that was my path at the time. I knew I wanted to do the leadership piece.”
She recalls that during her time as a principal in Tyler, Texas, she became “intrigued and fascinated” by turnaround schools. “I was really interested in going to low-performing schools and turning those schools around, because it’s hard to find good teachers. The retention rate is super low; the discipline rates were high. That became something I was really passionate about – recruiting good teachers, turning those schools around, and providing opportunities for those students.”
She left Tyler for a turnaround principal position in Marshall, Texas. “They were about to be taken over by the state the year that I got there. And my superintendent said, ‘You seem to have a knack for this. You really need to get your doctorate.’ ”
Carreathers’ first response was, “Nobody has time for that. That’s too much.” And in the next breath, she found herself saying, “No, I’m going to!”
Choosing ACU Online for her Ed.D. program
Carreathers set out to systematically research three prospective schools, “and ACU was at the top of my list.” She was especially impressed by the genuineness of her advisor as well as “the faith piece.”
“It was really important for me to go to a school that had a Christian foundation,” she says. “And they were really receptive and open. I also felt like they understood that you had to have work, school and spiritual balance.”
Working as a principal while earning her doctorate “was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she admits. When she got to the quantitative statistics coursework, she hit the wall. “I’m going to have to wait, I can’t do this,” she told her advisor. He again reassured her and suggested she talk to her professor.
When she told her instructor, “I’m struggling, I’m not quite understanding,” the professor opened up office hours and offered tutoring sessions. “It was just what I would tell my teachers to do,” she said. “They were really supportive.”
“Life happened” for Carreathers during her program years. “My mom got sick, I got sick. I had a breast cancer scare that turned out to be really mild, but I had to take a semester off to deal with that. … It was really important for me to hear from my dissertation chair and Dr. McMichael, ‘I’m praying for you,’ or to get a text from someone who has their own life and job saying, ‘God is a healer.’ So things like that were important to me because I do believe we all have a divine purpose.”
Carreathers credits ACU’s “strategic, scripted and methodical” dissertation program with her successful finish, and it helped her organize her thoughts into a three-year literacy plan for Fort Worth ISD. She says defending her dissertation on the under-representation of females and minority groups who attend Texas STEM academies was a smooth process. “It took about 25 minutes. They had a lot of questions, but I was fortunate enough that I knew my data so well, so it was second nature to me. I was really comfortable, and I got a complete pass, which I was excited about.”
Packing up and moving up
When Carreathers earned her Ed.D., she had been working at a school for about six months intending to spend three or four years turning it around. But on the very day she defended her dissertation, she saw a posting for the newly created executive director of literacy position for Fort Worth ISD.
She decided “to apply and see.” She knew her doctorate and 14 years of administration experience were in her favor, and she cites the dissertation process itself for preparing her to step into this challenging role. “I will have a department of six to 11 coordinators and facilitators, but I will oversee 126 instructional coaches for the district and do curriculum assessment.”
Carreathers is confident she made the right decision to pursue her Ed.D.
“It’s going to allow me an opportunity to impact other adults so they can impact and help kids. And that’s why I wanted to be a principal. This degree is going to give me a different venue and avenue for me to be able to help leaders who will, in turn, help teachers and kids,” she said. “That’s why I know all the sacrifice, all the hard work, was worth it for me.”