Executive Director of Human Resources Sara Vann and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Michael McLymore are colleagues at Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s and classmates in Russell Sage College’s Educational Leadership doctoral program. Photo credit: Cassie Sklarz, Newburgh Enlarged City School District

Early in her career as a classroom teacher, Sara Vann had an opportunity to serve as a staff development and instructional coach (Development and instructional coaches facilitate schoolwide initiatives, from teacher professional development to technology to improve student learning.) As she grew as a leader, she became interested in education administration and went on to serve in school and district administrator roles in New York City and Newburgh, New York. 

Today Vann is Executive Director of Human Resources for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, a position she has held for four years. Over her career, she noticed her colleagues tended to retire around age 55. As she approached 55, she considered doing the same — albeit very briefly. 

“That milestone birthday came and went,” she said. “I realized that I had been built for more.” 

An after-work conversation about career goals with her supervisor, Newburgh’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Michael McLymore, is what inspired her to reconsider. (Although Vann and McLymore have partnered in the HR department for just four years, they have been colleagues in the district for 10 years.) 

Like Vann, McLymore has spent several decades in education. He began his career as a special education teacher. While he taught, he earned a certificate of advanced studies in educational administration and became assistant principal, then principal, in his K-6 school. The Newburgh School District recruited him for the HR executive director position in 2004, promoting him to assistant superintendent in 2016. In his administrative roles, he’s been able to make a positive difference for teachers and the teaching profession, he said, which ultimately benefits students. 

McLymore said a doctorate in leadership had been a longtime goal, and a former colleague’s experience made Russell Sage College’s Educational Leadership program his first choice.

“I shared with Sara that I was interested in the program, and I wanted her to consider joining the program with me,” he said of their pivotal conversation. 

“A spark ignited in me, and I realized in that moment that I needed to push my edge in this work instead of retiring,” added Vann. 

After researching programs, she came to the same conclusion as McLymore: “Sage won hands down, based on the countless narratives that lauded its intentional scope and sequence and outstanding support from professors, advisors, and executive coaches,” she said. 

In fall 2022, the colleagues started Sage’s Ed.D. program together. 

At work, McLymore and Vann provide leadership to the Newburgh School District in all areas related to personnel — from recruitment, hiring, and onboarding, to benefits administration, labor negotiations, and much, much more. The district has approximately 2,000 certificated and support employees. 

At Sage, McLymore and Vann are members of a learning cohort of professionals representing public, independent, and charter schools, districts large and small, higher education, and education-related agencies and organizations. They study the latest research on leadership, organizational governance, change theory, and community building and how to apply it in their workplaces, in order to create the best possible learning experiences for students. 

McLymore said that Sage’s program aligns with his daily work while also deepening his knowledge and broadening his perspective. 

He said his Educational Leadership professors are as committed to the doctoral candidates’ success as the candidates themselves are, and refers to a favorite movie, The Karate Kid. “The moral of the movie is that anything worth doing is worth doing properly. Your results in life are oftentimes a reflection of the effort and time you put in. [The professors] push me to become better.”

Vann finds being part of a learning cohort especially rewarding. “It has cultivated a group of strangers into a network of lifelong friends, who care deeply about creating new knowledge, but more importantly, we care about one another’s progress and success,” she said. 

The reading list has also inspired her. “My absolute favorite remains The Wizard and the Warrior,” she said. The book by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal is subtitled “Leading with Passion and Power.” Vann said it “validated my subtle, ninja-like prowess while progressively encouraging me to come out of my shell more proactively to continue the good fight on behalf of children.”

McLymore and Vann expect to complete their doctorates in 2024, and anticipate continued professional success.  

“I am looking forward to consulting and learning more,” said McLymore, excited to be the first in his family to earn a doctorate. “I plan to continue my writing and possibly write a book.” 

“Whether I remain as a member of the executive cabinet in the same title or transition to a new role at a new location, the goal to push my edge and gain new insights into administration so that I may lead stronger than ever is on fire!” said Vann, who recently became a grandmother to a now 7-month-old baby girl. “Every time I look into her big brown eyes, I am reminded that I am built for more — which may include writing or coaching other administrators so that they, too, can find their way to learn more to do more for our children.”

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